Skip to main content

Full text of "Letters of an Altrurian traveller, 1893-94"

See other formats


UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




COLLEGE LIBRARY 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://archive.org/details/lettersofaltruriOOhowe 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER 



SCHOLARS' FACSIMILES & REPRINTS 

118 N.W. 26th Street 

Gainesville, Florida, U.S.A. 

Harry R. Warfel, General Editor 



REPRODUCED FROM A COPY IN 
AND WITH THE PERMISSION OF 

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 



L.C. Catalog Card Number: 61-5081 



With This Book 

The Editors Pay Tribute To 

VASSAR COLLEGE 

On The 0ccAs*««rO^jTS Centennial 




MANUFACTURED IN THE U.S.A. 

LETTERPRESS BY J. N. ANZEL, INC. 

PHOTOLITHOGRAPHY BY EDWARDS BROTHERS 

BINDING BY UNIVERSAL-DIXIE BINDERY 



INTRODUCTION 



William Dean Howells wrote for The Cosmopolitan twenty-three Altrurian 
essays between November, 1892, and September, 1894. The first twelve, forming 
a series entitled "A Traveller From Altruria," were re-issued as a book in 1894; 
the other eleven essays, called "Letters of an Altrurian Traveller," have never 
before been reprinted in full since their first appearance. Two of these Letters 
remained in The Cosmopolitan until the present; several are to be found, with 
deletions and alterations, in a volume of essays by Howells, Impressions and 
Experiences (1896); portions of others make up Part First of Through the Eye 
of the Needle (1907). The illustrations were not reproduced in these later print- 
ings. 

Letters of an Altrurian Traveller is of interest to the reader today, because it 
offers him an opportunity to consider the candid comments of a sophisticated 
Traveller written to his friend in Altruria in the course of a visit to the United 
States in 1892-1893. In these Letters, Howells expresses his own criticism of 
America — sometimes caustic, sometimes humorous — at the time when he was at 
the peak of his long career. 

After reading Tolstoy in 1885, Howells became deeply concerned with what he 
considered the selfish materialism of a burgeoning "plutocracy." His growing social 
awareness was reflected in a series of novels that began with The Minister s 
Charge (1887) and ended with The World of Chance (1893). Annie Kilburn 
(1888) was a direct reflection of the thinking stirred in Howells by reading 
Que Faire? by Tolstoy. Both Howells' novel, concerning an American girl's effort 
to bring social justice to a small New England town, and Tolstoy's long essay, 
presenting his observation of poverty when he was a tax collector in Moscow, 
became key contributions to the thinking of such men as Edward Everett Hale, 
Henry George, Richard T. Ely, Edward Bellamy, and W. D. P. Bliss. Howells, 
in turn, was influenced by the writing of all these men, for he was personally 
associating with them during his two years in Bostom, 1889-1891. While Benjamin 
Harrison was President, many reformers poured their energy into such movements 
as those of the Populists, the Nationalists, and the Christian Socialists. Howells' 
Altrurian essays were his response to these larger national currents, and were 
recognized in his day as relevant to the discussions roused by the rapidly changing 
economic scene in this country at the turn of the century. 

Who, then, was the Altrurian? 



INTRODUCTION 



THE ALTRURIAN IN THE COSMOPOLITAN 

"Gentlemen, I wish to introduce my friend, Mr. Homos," said the popular 
novelist, Mr. Twelvemough, in the summer of 1892, addressing a banker, a min- 
ister, a lawyer, a doctor, and a professor, seated on the wide veranda of a country 
hotel in New Hampshire. Thus W. D. Howells presented a Traveller from 
Altruria to a group of Americans living in a decade torn with social strife; these 
gentlemen were at the moment thoughtfully enjoying their after-dinner cigars. 

At the same time Howells introduced the readers of The Cosmopolitan to 
Aristides Homos, spokesman for his dream of an Altrurian America, and invited 
them to consider with him his hopes and fears for the expanding country. Mr. 
Twelvemough added, as further explanation of his guest: "Mr. Homos is from 
Altruria. He is visiting our country for the first time, and is greatly interested 
in the working of our institutions. He has been asking me some rather hard ques- 
tions about certain phases of our civilization; and the fact is that I have launched 
him upon you because I don't feel quite able to cope with him." 

By politely questioning the comfortable Americans whom he encountered vaca- 
tioning in a summer hotel, and by conversing with the less fortunate Americans 
who lived on the impoverished farms near-by, Aristides Homos made it clear to 
the reader that he (and Howells) looked upon our competitive, business civiliza- 
tion as only partially evolved — in fact, as very near to a primitive state of 
barbarism. Many hundreds of years ago, the Altrurians, too, had passed through 
the Age of Accumulation, for they had lost sight of the Christian and Greek 
philosophy which they had known in their earlier, simpler days. They, too, had 
fought amongst themselves in pursuit of their selfish ends, but after generations 
of civic strife and useless warfare, they had come to understand that man de- 
stroys himself unless he accepts the basic concepts of Altruism. The beliefs of 
the early Christians, somewhat modified by the Greek love of beauty and respect 
for civil liberties, became once more the philosophy which guided the Altrurians 
in both their public and their private lives. 

By means' of this thinly-veiled satire on the plutocracy of the 1890's, Howells 
expressed his attitude toward strikes, money, war, religion, taxes, social snobbery, 
education, the family, the use of natural resources, and various other subjects 
then actually being discussed on many hotel porches. Though called on the title 
page "A Romance," A Traveller from Altruria (1894) ends with a long and 
serious speech by the visitor to the country people and summer boarders gathered 
at the New Hampshire resort. 

Howells, as soon as he had concluded for The Cosmopolitan the series of 
Altrurian essays which make up the "Romance," began for the same publication 
a new series, entitled "Letters of an Altrurian Traveller." These Letters, eleven 
in number, appeared monthly between November, 1893, and September, 1894. 
Written by Aristides Homos to his friend Cyril in Altruria, the Letters reflect the 
Traveller's views of America, unmodified by his former urbane good manners. 



] 



INTRODUCTION vii 

II 
LETTERS I AND II 

On September 1, 1893, the Altrurian, then in New York, writing a long letter 
to Cyril in Altruria, summed up the Traveller's impressions of America at the 
end of his first year in this country. This fantastic land seemed to him "like a 
belated Altruria, tardily repeating in the nineteenth century the errors which we 
committed in the tenth." This first Letter in the second Altrurian series was never 
included in any later publication by Howells, no doubt because the unvarnished 
views of "Babylon" — as the Altrurian now called New York — seemed to Howells, 
in retrospect, too outspoken. 

Before the month was ended, an even longer letter went to Cyril, this time 
from Chicago, where Homos had journeyed to visit the great Columbian Ex- 
position of 1893. This second Letter, likewise never reprinted, is of especial interest 
to the modern reader. In it is expressed the hope that the United States might 
eventually evolve toward the Altrurian vision of Classical beauty and Christian 
brotherhood which almost miraculously had become embodied in the White City 
on the shores of Lake Michigan. Aristides had always thought of Chicago as 
merely a sort of "ultimate Manhattan, the realized ideal of that largeness, 
loudness and fastness, which New York has persuaded the Americans is metro- 
politan." He added: "But after seeing the World's Fair City here, I feel as if 
I had caught a glimpse of the glorious capitals which will whiten the hills and 
shores of the east and the borderless plains of the west, when the New York 
and the Newer York of today shall seem to all the future Americans as impossible 
as they would seem to any Altrurian now." 

Returning to New York two weeks later, he said, was like exposing himself 
"a second time to the shock of American conditions," unsupported by the "ro- 
mantic expectations" which buoyed him up on his first arrival in this country. 
The weary Traveller confessed to his friend that he would like to take ship at 
once for his homeland and forget forever the harsh, competitive society of 
America. "But I have denied myself this," he wrote, "in the interest of the studies 
of plutocratic civilization which I wish to make." The comment on Chicago and 
New York which Aristides imparted to Cyril, enjoying the enlightened civiliza- 
tion of far-off Altruria, is clearly Howells' own view of the America of his day. 
Aristides is Howells' more critical self. 

Howells himself paid a five-day visit to the Exposition in late September, 1893, 
as the personal guest of the Director, Daniel H. Burnham; he, as well as Aristides 
Homos, felt that the harmonious classical buildings of the Fair City, illumined 
by thousands of electric lights reflected in the lakes and lagoons of Jackson Park, 
suggested the neoclassical spirit of an earlier America. That this vision of ancient 
Greece should be brought within the range of the thousands of simple people 
from all parts of the country seemed to Homos-Howells a triumph of democracy. 
The New World thus declared to the Old that the outpost of civilization had 
moved to the West, for here in the heart of the industrial area Classical order 



viii INTRODUCTION 

and beauty had been brought into being by a mighty co-operative effort of selfless 
men and women working for the throngs who would come to view the wonders. 
They, in turn, would travel back to their small towns and villages, carrying the 
message of Altruism — or Christian brotherhood — modified by Classical balance 
and harmony. "The Fair City is a bit of Altruria"; to visit it is to wish to emulate it. 
Howells was not alone in seeing in the Chicago Exposition this dream of the 
majestic future of the country. Hamlin Garland spent several weeks there, gather- 
ing material for his little volume of essays, Crumbling Idols (1894); Charles 
Eliot Norton made the tiresome trip from Boston and wrote home that the beauty 
of the Fair had renewed his hope for a national renaissance; though Henry Adams 
looked upon the Machine Age with foreboding, he returned to the Fair twice, 
so fascinated was he by the enchantment of the scene as well as by the dynamo 
in the Engineering Building. Harper's Weekly, Century, Scribners, and all the 
other magazines and journals of the country dedicated whole issues to accounts 
of the Exposition. The entire December issue of The Cosmopolitan was turned 
over to articles on the White City and its implications for the future; Letter II 
of the second Altrurian series was Howells' contribution to this issue of the maga- 
zine. Through the Altrurian, Howells expressed his own concept of how in- 
numerable Fair Cities might be built across the country, in spite of the selfish 
tendencies of our industrial civilization, for he had seen "the Altrurian Miracle" 
wrought in "the very heart of egoism," Chicago. 



Ill 

LETTERS III, IV, AND V 

In order to consider the relationship of Letters III, IV, and V to their later 
re-appearance as two essays in Impressions and Experiences we must now go 
back several years in our story. Both "A Traveller From Altruria" and "Letters 
of an Altrurian Traveller" appeared as serials in The Cosmopolitan soon after 
that magazine was taken over by an aggressively social-minded editor from the 
West, John Brisben Walker. Because of Howells' prominence as a novelist and 
because of his social concern as expressed especially in A Hazard of New Fortunes, 
Walker had invited Howells in 1891 to become a co-editor of the new venture. By 
June, 1892, it was apparent to Howells that close association with "The Napoleon 
of the Magazines" (as the New York Tribune dubbed Walker) was, for him, 
impossible. However, the relationship between the two men, as editor and con- 
tributor, remained intact. Walker, who visited the Chicago Exposition on July 4, 
1893, no doubt urged Howells to make a flying trip to the Fair and include his 
comments in the new Altrurian series beginning in the fall. Since Howells had 
written his last "Editor's Study" for Harpers just before he joined the staff of 
The Cosmopolitan, his Altrurian communications became Howells' monthly "voice," 
heard by an everwidening circle of Cosmopolitan readers. Under Walker the pub- 
lication was challenging the pre-eminence of all the great New York magazines — 



INTRODUCTION ix 

even that of Harpers. It was Harper and Brothers, however, with whom Howells 
arranged for the issuing of "A Traveller From Altruria" as a book, for Walker's 
enterprise did not extend to a publishing house. 

Why did not Harper also bring out in book form "Letters of an Altrurian 
Traveller?" Were the views expressed, especially in the first and second Letters, 
too strong for Harper and Brothers? We know only that the first two Letters 
of the group remained uncollected, though they contain some of Howells' most 
trenchant writing. We know, further, that Letters III, IV, and V did appear in 
1896, as two essays in Impressions and Experiences, issued by Harper. The titles 
of the three Letters were then changed: "A Bit of Altruria in New York," "Aspects 
and Impressions of a Plutocratic City," and "Plutocratic Contrasts and Con- 
tradictions" became, when re-edited, "Glimpses of Central Park" and "New York 
Streets." 

Not only were the titles toned down to suit the Harper public, but the Altrurian 
himself was removed from his Letters. These, of course, were no longer letters 
but essays admittedly written by Howells. We suddenly realize that the hotel 
into which the Altrurian retreated after his return from Chicago was near Howells' 
own West 59th Street apartment house, facing Central Park, where he lived at 
this time. That Howells himself had taken the place of the Traveller is evident 
at the very opening of Letter III, for there we discover one morning in October 
the author, and not the Altrurian, seated on a bench in Central Park, watching 
the sparrows and squirrels. 

The Altrurian spent the winter at the old Plaza which, "preposterous" as he 
admits it is in structure, "forms a sort of gateway to the Park." The reader who 
troubles to compare, paragraph by paragraph, the original Letters with the re- 
edited essays will notice that columns of comment by the Altrurian on the filth 
of New York streets, the number of saloons on Sixth Avenue, and the poverty 
to be seen on any side-street, for example, have been deleted; he will notice, 
too, that many minor references to the beauty of Altrurian cities, the happiness 
of the people, and the part played by the government of Altruria, have also been 
omitted. It is important, then, to read Letters III, IV and V, as they first appeared 
in The Cosmopolitan, before they were edited for inclusion in Impressions and 
Experiences, because here the Altrurian's voice was more emphatic than Howells' 
own more restrained tone. 



IV 

LETTERS VI, VII, VII, X, X, XI 

The remaining six Letters of the series lay forgotten in the bound volumes of 
The Cosmopolitan until they were resurrected by Howells to form Part First of 
Through the Eye of the Needle (1907), which was also a Harper publication. 
Though Howells, in preparing the volume, omitted some paragraphs, transposed 
others, modified sentences and phrases, he allowed the Altrurian to remain the 
speaker. The Letters, without superscriptures, now became essays, quieter in tone 
than the comments the Altrurian addressed to Cyril some fourteen years earlier, 
but unmistakably Howells' own. 



x INTRODUCTION 

In an Introduction to the book written in 1907, Howells with ironic aloofness 
pointed out that it was the Altrurian, and not the editor, who was "entangled in 
his social sophistries." In offering this "synopsis" of the Letters written in 1893 to 
"an intimate friend in his own country," the editor indicated "certain peculiarities 
of the Altrurian attitude which the temperament of the writer has somewhat 
modified." Were the Traveller to visit us in 1907, Howells remarked with irony, 
his comment to his friend would surely have been altered. He would have noticed, 
for example, the present "munificence of the charitable rich"; "the general decay 
of snobbishness among us"; the quietness of Subway stations, now retreats "fit 
for meditation and prayer"; the sweet odors of traffic-filled thoroughfares; the 
disappearance of the old tenement houses, all of which are now modern apart- 
ments. Evictions have become so rare that, were the Altrurian to take a walk 
"in the poorer quarters of the town ... in the coldest weather," he would prob- 
ably not observe more than "half a dozen cases of families set out on the side- 
walk with their household goods about them." The reader must bear in mind, 
said Howells, that when the Altrurian visited our country some years earlier, it 
was on the verge of a great depression which extended from 1894 to 1898. "But," 
remarked Howells, who was well known to his readers for his stand against the 
Spanish-American War of 1898, "Providence marked the divine approval of our 
victory in that contest by renewing in unexampled measure the prosperity of the 
Republic. With the downfall of the trusts, and the release of our industrial and 
commercial forces to unrestricted activity, the condition of every form of labor 
has been immeasurably improved, and it is now united with capital in bonds of 
the closest affection." As a result of those "bonds," we have long been enjoying 
a "sort of Golden Age^or Age on a Gold Basis." 

With these sarcastic words Howells in Through the Eye of the Needle smoothly 
disentangled himself from responsibility for the views of the Altrurian. This 
1907 Introduction is Howells' urbane but deeply satiric comment on the "prosper- 
ity" of the decade; it might well be considered one of his most important Altrurian 
essays. 

Letters VI through XI were re-edited by Howells in 1907 to become Part 
First of his second Altrurian "Romance." A comparison of the original version with 
that in Part First of the Needle will show that Howells' editing meant the 
suppression of the more outspoken passages of the earlier essays, deletion of 
sentences and phrases in favor of milder comment, and, in the case of Letter 
IX, a drastic cutting and pasting in order to recombine it with Letter V. Apparently 
Howells had merely laid aside a section of Letter V which he later added to 
Letter XI. 

The fact that Howells did not write Part Second until 1907 might explain the 
changes he felt he must make in Aristides' original Letters. Now the earlier Letters 
had to be brought into harmony with the new ending Howells found for his 
"Romance" when he reconsidered the sad fate which he had dealt Aristides 
in 1894. Eveleth Strange, who had decided at that time that she could not 
surrender her bank account in order to marry Mr. Homos, changed her mind in 
Part Second and with her mother pursued her lover to Liverpool, where they 
were married. The three then continued their outward voyage to Altruria. The 



INTRODUCTION xi 

brief chapters which Ho wells added in 1907 are the letters from Mrs. Homos to 
her friend Dorothea Makely in New York, reporting these romantic circumstances 
which must have happened many years before. 

Eveleth Strange's decision to marry the Altrurian proves, one supposes, that 
a rich man — in this case a rich widow — can squeeze Through the Eye of the 
Needle. Eveleth's letters to her old friend, however, leave one in some doubt 
as to whether the whole experience — her marriage to Aristides, the serene sea 
voyage, the calm and happy existence on this mythical Island — was not, in fact, 
a dream. Howells, at the age of seventy, was willing to recast his earlier hope 
for the social redemption of the country in terms of vision, for he had come to 
feel less reliance on the power of "human nature" ever to change. As the old 
New York butler, who by chance found himself in Altruia, observed to Mrs. 
Homos, "It's rum here, because, though everything seems to go so right, it's against 
human nature." Eveleth promptly queried, "Then you don't believe a camel can 
ever go through the eye of a needle?" "I don't quite see how, ma'am," replied 
Robert, voicing Howells' own mistrust of the dream which, in the 1890's, seemed 
to him not entirely visionary. 



V 
A CYCLE OF AMERCAN THOUGHT 

Letters of an Altrurian Traveller, as it came from the sharp pen of Aristides 
Homos in 1893-1894, is a link between Howells' two published Altrurian roman- 
ces, and makes more clear the thought of their author in the last decade of the 
nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. A Traveller From Al- 
truria, Letters of an Altrurian Traveller, and Through the Eye of the Needle 
supply the necessary background for an understanding of the many novels, from 
Annie Kilburn to The Son of Royal Langbrith, which Howells wrote during the 
twenty-year span marking the height of his creative life. Only by studying the 
Altrurian essays in the form in which they were written can one understand 
Howells' protracted reflections on the social, religious, and political currents of 
his day. 

One suspects that the romance of the Island of Altruria, which was called 
forth with something of Prospero's magic touch, enchanted the readers of Howells' 
generation, as it does our own. It is to be noticed, however, that Howells, like 
Shakespeare, was shrewdly aware of the world immediately around him; "A 
Traveller From Altruria" began to appear in the autumn of 1892, just when the 
country stood on the verge of an economic depression, which lasted until 1898, 
and Through the Eye of the Needle came out in April, 1907, a few months after 
the beginning of the Wall Street crash of that year which ushered in another 
great depression. The basic concepts of the two books remained the same, though 
vast changes had taken place in this country between 1892 and 1907. As Howells 



xii INTRODUCTION 

wrote in 1909 in a Preface to his "two romances," when he thought of putting 
them together in one book for the projected Library Edition of his works: "The 
two romances grouped here are books of one blood, but in birth so far divided 
from each other by time that they might seem mother and daughter rather than 
sisters. Yet they are of the same generation and born of the same abiding con- 
viction: the conviction that the economic solution of the 'riddle of the painful 
earth' is to be by emulation and not by competition." Together these romances 
express Howells' "vision of idealities," which "must one day be the actualities 
of the world." 

Letters of an Altrurian Traveller holds an important place in the long line of 
Altrurian essays which reflect Howells' brooding thought on the "riddle of the 
painful earth." Christian in concept, Classical in tone, it is sharply critical of the 
actual economic and social conditions of our country during the Age of Accumula- 
tion before the First World War. 

That Howells' meditations on travellers from afar who bring enlightenment 
never ceased is attested by the last "Easy Chair" he wrote for Harpers, April, 
1920, before his death the following month. Here two visitors from Mars bring 
news of their planet, which is "entirely socialized," where war is unknown and 
civic harmony prevails. When the Editor suggests that his visitors describe their 
life on this fortunate planet to a gathering of his fellow citizens in a large public 
hall, he adds the warning: "Be careful, though, about your socialization. Social- 
ism isn't at all in favor just now. It was some time ago, when it was in the doctri- 
naire state — Looking Backward and the like — but now that we see the latter-day 
socialists really mean it — well, it's another thing. See? Better confine yourselves 
to your material conditions — your canals and inland seas and polar snow-caps. 
Don't touch on moral or economical affairs." 

The New York audience, which crowded a large lecture hall to hear the Mar- 
tians speak, soon decided that it would be unsafe indiscriminately to admit visitors 
from neighboring planets and that the two guests should be deported. Means 
for returning them to Mars, however, were not then available; "as the next best 
thing," Howells tells us in conclusion, "they were sent to Russia upon the theory 
that they were Bolshevists." 

Thus Howells in his "vision of idealities" commented on a cycle of American 
thought from Christian Socialism to the Russian Revolution. His tone, in the 
course of these thirty years, varied from that of the urbane observer to that of 
the caustic critic or the disillusioned ironist; it was always serious, for, in his 
effort to envisage an Altrurian America, he was concerned with his own social 
conscience, which, in a sense, was also the national conscience. 

Clara M. Kirk 
Rudolf Kirk 
Rutgers University 
May 10, 1960 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 13 

By W. D. Howells. 



New York, September ist, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

I hoped before this to have seen you 
again in Altruria, and given you by word 
of mouth some account of my experiences 
and observations in this country ; but I 
have now been here more than a 3 r ear, and 
I find myself still lingering here in a kind 
of fascination. At times I seem to myself 
to have been in a fantastic dream since I 
landed on its shores, with the spectacle of 
so many things before me happening with- 
out law and without reason, as things do 
in sleep ; and then, again, it is as if I were 
carried by some enchantment back to the 
old competitive period in our own country; 
for, after all, America is like a belated Al- 
truria, tardily repeating in the nineteenth 
century the errors which we committed in 
the tenth. In fact, if you could imagine an 
Altruria where the millennium had never 
yet come, you would have some conception 
of America ; and, perhaps, I had better 
leave you with this suggestion, and not 
attempt farther to generalize from my 
impressions, but give you these at first 
hand and let you form your own idea of 
the American civilization from them. 

I say civilization, because one has to 
use some such term to describe a state 
which has advanced beyond the condi- 
tions of cannibalism, tribalism, slavery, 
serfdom and feudalism ; but, of course, 
no Altrurian would think America a civ- 
ilized country, though many of the Amer- 
icans are as truly civilized as ourselves. 
We should not think it a democratic coun- 
try, though many of the Americans are 
really democrats, and they are all proud 
of their republican form of government, 
though it is now little but a form. Far 
less should we think it a Christian coun- 
try, though it abounds in good people, 
who love one another, and lead lives of 
continual self-sacrifice. The paradox is in- 
telligible when you reflect that these 
Americans are civilized, and democratic 
and Christian, in spite of their conditions 
and not because of them. In order to do 
them full justice, you must remember that 
they are still, socially as well as civically, 



sunk in the lowest depths of competi- 
tion, and that, theoretically at least, they 
prize this principle as the spring of all 
the personal and public virtues. To us 
this is a frightful anomaly ; but because 
they do not feel it so, they are often able 
to do and to will the good, as I have in- 
timated. Nowhere else in the whole 
world is capitalism now carried to such 
brutal excess, and yet nowhere else have 
qualities which we should think impos- 
sible in a capitalistic state shown them- 
selves so nobly, so beautifully. It is this 
fact, in its different aspects, which, I sup- 
pose, has formed for me that fascination 
I have felt almost from the first moment 
of my arrival. 

I had hardly been in the country a week 
before an illustration of the facility with 
which human nature adjusts itself to bad 
conditions and makes them tolerable by 
its patience, eclipsed all the little in- 
stances that were every moment offering 
themselves to my notice. The great event 
at Homestead, which our Altrurian pa- 
pers will have given you some account of, 
occurred little over a year ago, but it is 
already forgotten. To the Americans it 
was not astounding that a force of armed*' 
workmen should bloodily fight out their 
quarrel with the mercenaries of their mas- 
ters. In many states no change of the laws 
in respect to the incident has taken place 
to prevent its repetition, on any larger or 
smaller scale. None of the legal proced- 
ures have resulted in anything, and so 
far as the arrests for murder on either side 
are concerned, the whole affair has ended 
like a comic opera ; and the warring in- 
terests have left the stage singing the 
same chorus together. The affair is, in 
fact, so thoroughly bouffe that I have to 
take my imagination in both hands before 
I can conceive of it as a fact ; but the 
Americans are so used to these private 
wars between the banded forces of labor 
and the hirelings of capital, that they ac- 
cept it as something almost natural, or as 
a disease inherent in the nature of things, 
and having its own laws and limitations. 
The outbreak at Homestead, as you know, 
was followed by something like a civic 
convulsion among the miners in Tennes- 



14 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIA N TRAVELLER. 



see and in Idaho, and by a strike of rail- 
road employes at Buffalo, which de- 
stroyed immense values, delayed traffic, 
and shed blood on both sides. In this last 
strike it was thought a great gain that 
the railroad managers, instead of employ- 
ing mercenaries to shoot down the strikers, 
appealed to the state for protection ; and 
it was somehow felt to be a fine effect of 
patriotism that the militia should occupy 
the scene of the riot in force and bear 
themselves toward the strikers like the 
invaders of an enemy's country. 

If it had not all been so tragical in 
other aspects, the observer must have 
been amused by the attitude of most 
Americans towards these affairs. They 
seemed really to regard them as proofs of 
the superiority of the plutocracy which 
they call a republic, and to feel a kind of 
pride in the promptness and ferocity of 
the civil and military officials in suppress- 
ing symptoms which ought to have ap- 
pealed to every sane person as signs of 
the gravest organic disorder. To my 
mind nothing seems so conclusive against 
their pretensions to civilization as the 
fact that these terrible occurrences are ac- 
cepted as the necessary incidents of civili- 
zation. 

There was, indeed, a certain small per- 
centage of the people who felt the signifi- 
cance of the disasters; and I am anxious 
to have you understand that the average 
of intelligence among the Americans, as 
well as the average of virtue, is very high, 
not according to the Altrurian standard, 
of course, but certainty according to the 
European standard. Bad as their plutoc- 
racy is, it is still the best system known 
to competitional conditions, except per- 
haps that of Switzerland, where the in- 
itiative and the referendum enable the 
people to originate and to ultimate legis- 
lation, while the Americans can do neither. 
Here, the people, as you know, can only 
elect representatives ; these again dele- 
gate their powers to committees, which 
in effect make the laws governing the 
nation. The American plutocracy is the 
old oligarchic conception of government 
in a new phase, and while it is estab- 
lished and maintained by a community 
mostly Christian, it is essentially pagan 
in its civic ideal. Yet this people, whose 
civic ideal is pagan, are, many of them, 
not only Christian in creed, but Christian 



in life, so far as their polity and their so- 
ciety permit them to think rightly and 
act generously. There are beautiful and 
pathetic instances of approach to our ideal 
among them which constantly win my ad- 
miration and compassion. That is to say, 
certain Americans are good and gentle 
not because of conditions that invite 
them to be so, but in spite of conditions 
that invite them to be otherwise, almost 
with the first economic and social lessons 
which they teach. Almost from the be- 
ginning the American is taught to look 
out for himself in business and in society, 
and if he looks out for others at the same 
time it is by a sacrifice of advantages 
which are vitally necessary to him in 
the battle of life. He may or he may 
not make these sacrifices ; he very often 
does, to such effect that the loveliest and 
lovablest natures I have known here have 
been those of unsuccessful Americans, 
and the ugliest and hatefullest, those of 
successful Americans. But the sad thing, 
and the droll thing, is that they think 
their bad conditions the source of their 
virtues, and they really believe that with- 
out the inducements to rapacit}' on every 
hand there would be no beauty in yielding 
and giving. 

Certain persons have been instanced 
to me as embodying certain generous 
qualities, and when I explain that the 
man who had not all these qualities in 
Altruria would be as exceptional as the 
man who has them is here, I have seen 
that people either did not believe me 
or did not understand me. The Amer- 
icans honor such qualities as much as we 
do, and they appreciate gentleness, un- 
selfishness, and neighborliness as much 
as we do, but they expect them only so 
far as they do not cross a man's self-in- 
terest ; when they do that, he is a very 
unusual man if he continues to indulge 
in them, or, as they say, he is not busi- 
ness. When I tell them that the man 
who does not indulge them in Altruria is 
not business they look blank, or suspect 
me of a joke. When I try to make them 
understand that in their sense we have no 
self-interest in Altruria, and that if they 
had our conditions they would have no 
self-interest, it alarms them ; they have 
so long been accustomed to live upon one 
another that they cannot imagine living 
for one another ; the}' think self-interest 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



15 






a very good thing, the best sort of thing, 
and they ask what merit has a man in be- 
ing good if he is not good to his disad- 
vantage ; they cannot conceive that a 
man should have no merit in being good. 
As for Christ's coming to do away with 
the old pagan economics as well as the old 
pagan ethics, they hoot at the notion. 

I will not try, in this letter, to tell you 
just how all this can be; you will, in some 
sort conceive of its possibility from what 
you know of the competitive world at sec- 
ond hand, but I hope to make it clearer 
to you by and by. You must always ac- 
count for a sort of bewilderment in me, 
inevitable in the presence of a state of 
things which is the complete inversion of 
our own, and in which I seem to get the 
same effect of life that boys sometimes 
get of the landscape by putting down 
their heads and looking at it between 
their legs. 

Just at present there is no violent out- 
break in the economic world, no bloody 
collision between labor and capital, no 
private war to be fought out in the face 
of the whole acquiescent nation till the 
inconvenience forces the government to 
interfere and put down the weaker party. 
But though there is now an interval of 
quiet, no one can say how long it will 
last, and many feel that there is even 
something ominous in it, that it is some- 
thing like the calm in the heart of the 
cyclone. The cyclone is financial, if I 
may carry out the figure, and it began to 
blow, no one knows why or whence, sev- 
eral months ago. A great many weather- 
wiseacres pretended to know, and began 
to prophesy that if the export of gold to 
Europe could be stopped, and the coinage 
of silver could be arrested, and the enor- 
mous imposts could be removed, the ship 
of state would have plain sailing again. 
But the outflow of gold ceased without 
the slightest effect upon the cyclone ; the 
mere threat of touching the tariff" caused 
the closure of factories and foundries by 
the score, and the otiosation of workmen 
by the hundred thousand ; with every 
prospect that the coinage of silver would 
be arrested, there were failures of bank- 
ing-houses and business-houses on every 
hand. It remains to be seen what effect 
the actual demonetization of silver will 
have upon the situation, but the situation 
is so chaotic that no one among all the 



weather -wiseacres ventures to prophesy 
when the storm will cease to rage. Per- 
haps it has already ceased, but so far as 
the logic of events is concerned we might 
as well be in the heart of the cyclone, as 
I suggested. 

I am afraid that with all your reading, 
and with all your special study of Ameri- 
can conditions you would be dismayed if 
you could be confronted with the financial 
ruin which I find myself in the midst of, 
but which this extremely amiable and 
hopeful people do not seem to think so 
desperate. L,ike their bloody industrial 
wars, it is of such frequent recurrence that 
they have come to look upon it as in the 
order of nature. Probably they would 
tell you, if criticised from our point of 
view, that it was human nature to go to 
pieces about once in so often, and that this 
sort of disintegration was altogether prefer- 
able to any hard and fast system that held 
it together by the cohesion of moral princi- 
ples. In fact their whole business world 
is a world of chance, where nothing hap- 
pens according to law, but follows a loose 
order of accident, which any other order 
of accident may change. The question 
of money is the prime question of Amer- 
ican life, and you would think that the 
issue of money would be one of the most 
carefully guarded functions of the gov- 
ernment. But curiously enough, most 
of the money in the hands of the Ameri- 
can people is not issued by the govern- 
ment at all, but consists of the promis- 
sory notes of a multitude of banks, as 
was the case with us in the old competi- 
tive days. The government bonds, which 
perpetuate the national debt, that their 
circulation may be based on them, are ex- 
empted from taxation as a sort of reward 
for the usurpation of the governmental 
function by the banks ; and these banks 
are supposed to serve the community by 
supplying business men with the means 
of carrying on the commercial warfare. 
But they do this only at the heaviest rates 
of interest, and in times of general pros- 
perity : at the first signs of adversit}' they 
withhold their favors. You might think 
that the government which secures their 
notes would also secure their deposits, but 
the government does nothing of the kind, 
and the man who trusts his money to their 
keeping does so wholly at his own risk. 
When they choose, or when they are un- 



16 



LETTERS OF AN A ETRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



able, they may cease to pay it back to 
him, and he has no recourse whatever. 

With a financial system resting upon 
such a basis as this, and with the perpet- 
ual gambling in values, nominal and real, 
and in every kind of produce and manu- 
facture, which goes on throughout the 
whole country, you can hardly be sur- 
prised at the recurrence of the panics 
which follow each other at irregular in- 
tervals in the American business world. 
Indeed, the Americans are not surprised 
themselves; they regard them as some- 
thing that always must be because the} r 
always have been, though they own that 
each successive panic spreads wider dis- 
aster and causes deeper suffering. Still, 
they expect them to come, and they do 
not dream of contriving a system like 
ours, in which they are no more possible 
than human sacrifices. They say, that is 
all very well for us Altrurians, but it 
would not do for Americans, and they 
really seem to believe that misery on so 
vast a scale as they have it in one of their 
financial convulsions is a sort of testi- 
mony to their national greatness. When 
they begin to drag themselves up out of 
the pit of ruin, bewildered and bemired 
by their fall, they begin to boast of the 
magnificent recuperative energies of the 
country. Still, I think that the old 
American maxim that it will all come out 
right in the end, has less and less accept- 
ance. Some of them are beginning to fear 
that it will come out wrong in the end, if 
they go their old gait, or that it will at 
least come out Europe in the end. I 
would not venture to say how common 
this doubt was, but it certainly exists, 
and there is no question but that some of 
the thoughtfulest and best Americans 
are beginning to look toward Altruria as 
the only alternative from Europe. 

Such Americans see that Europe is al- 
ready upon them in the conditions of the 
very rich and the very poor. Poverty is 
here upon the European terms, and lux- 
ury is here upon the European terms. 
There is no longer the American working- 
man as he once was; he still gets better 
wages than the European workingman, 
but his economic and social status is 
exactly the same. He has accepted the 
situation for the present, but what he in- 
tends to do about it hereafter, no man 
knows; he, least of all men, knows. The 



American plutocrat has accepted the sit- 
uation even more frankly than the prol- 
etarian. He perceives distinctly that 
there is no American life for the very 
rich American, and when he does not go 
abroad to live, as he increasingly does, 
he lives at home upon the same terms and 
to the same effect that the Continental 
noble lives in Europe; for the English noble 
is usefuller to his country than the rich 
American. Of course the vast majority 
of Americans are of the middle class, and 
with them you can still find the old Amer- 
ican life, the old American ideals, the old 
American principles; and if the old Amer- 
ica is ever to prevail, it must be in their 
love and honor of it. I do not mean to 
say the American middle class are as a 
general thing consciously American, but 
it is valuable that they are even uncon- 
sciously so. As a general thing they are 
simply and frankly bent upon providing 
for themselves and for their own ; but 
some of them already see that they cannot 
realize even this low ideal, as things are, 
and that it will be more and more difficult 
to do so hereafter. A panic like the pres- 
ent is a great object lesson to them, and 
teaches the essential insecurity of their 
system as nothing else could. It shows 
that no industry, no frugality, no sagac- 
ity can be proof against such a storm, and 
that when it comes, the prudent and the 
diligent must suffer from it like the im- 
prudent and the indolent. At last some 
of them are asking themselves if there is 
not something wrong in the system itself, 
and if a system based upon self-seeking 
does not embody recurrent disaster and 
final defeat. They have heard of the Al- 
trurian system, and they are inquiring 
whether the sole economic safety is not in 
some such system. You must not sup- 
pose their motive is so low as this makes 
it seem. They are people of fine courage, 
and they have accesses of a noble gener- 
osity, but they have been born and bred 
in the presence of the fact that each man 
can alone save himself and those dear to 
him, from want; and we must not blame 
them if they cannot first think of the 
beauty and the grandeur of saving others 
from want. For the present, we cannot 
expect that they will think of anything 
higher at first than the danger to them- 
selves, respectively; when they grasp the 
notion of escape from that, they will 



LETTERS OF AN A ETRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



17 



think of the danger to others, and will 
be eager to Altrurianize, as they call it, 
for the sake of the common good as well 
as the personal good. I may be in er- 
ror, through my zeal for Altrurian prin- 
ciples, but I think that the Altrurian 
idea has come to stay, as they say, with 
this class. At any rate, it is not the very 
rich or the very poor who are leading re- 
form in our direction, but it is such of the 
comfortable middle class as have got the 
light. There is everything to hope from 
this fact, for it means that if the change 
comes at all, it will not come superficially 
and it will not come violently. The com- 
fortable Americans are the most comfort- 
able people in the world, and when they 
find themselves threatened in their com- 
fort, they will deal with the danger seri- 
ously, deliberately, thoroughly. 

But whatever the struggle is to be here, 
whether it will be a wild revolt of the 
poor against the rich, of laborer against 
capitalist, with all the sanguinary circum- 
stance of such an outbreak, or whether 
it will be the quiet opposition of the old 
American instincts to the recent pluto- 
cratic order of things, ending in the over- 
throw of the pagan ideals and institu- 
tions, and the foundation of a common- 
wealth upon some such basis as ours, I 
am sure that some sort of conflict is com- 
ing. I may be unable to do the proletar- 
ians justice, but so far, I do not think 
they have shown great wisdom in their 
attitude. If you were here you would 
sympathize with them, as I do in their 
strikes; but I think that you too would 
feel that these were not the means to 
achieve the ends they seek, and that 
higher wages and fewer hours were not 
the solution. The solution is the com- 
plete control of the industries by the 
people, as we know, and the assurance to 
every man willing to work that he shall not 
want; yet I must confess that the work- 
ingmen in America have not often risen 
to the conception of this notion. It is 
from those who have not been forced to 
toil so exhaustively that they cannot 
think clearly; it is from the comfortable 
middle class, which sees itself more and 
more closely environed by the inimical fac- 
tors of this so-called civilization that the 
good time is to come. It is by no means 
impossible, indeed, if things should now go 
on as they are going, and the proletarians 



should be more and more subjected to the 
plutocrats, that we should find the work- 
ingmen arrayed by their enemies against 
the only principles that can befriend them. 
This is to be seen already in the case of 
those small merchants and manufacturers 
whose business has been destroyed by the 
trusts and syndicates, but who have been 
received into the service of their destroy- 
ers; the plutocracy has no such faithful al- 
lies and followers. But it is not possible for 
all thesmall merchants and manufacturers 
to be disposed of in this way, and it is to 
such of these as perceive the fact, that the 
good cause can look for help. They have 
already fully imagined the situation, and 
some of them have imagined it actual. 
It is chiefly they, therefore, who are anx- 
ious to Altrurianize America, as the sole 
means of escape from their encompass- 
ing dangers. Their activity is very great 
and it is incessant ; and they were able to 
shape and characterize the formless de- 
sires of a popular movement in the West, 
so that at the last presidential election 
twenty -two electoral votes were cast in 
favor of the Altrurian principles which 
formed the vital element of the uprising 

Nevertheless, as I have more than once 
suggested, I do not think any fundamen- 
tal change is near. The Americans are a 
very conservative lace, and much slower 
to move than the English, as the more in- 
telligent English have often observed. 
The Altrurianization of England may 
take place first, but I do not think I am 
mistaken in believing that America will 
yet be entirely Altrurianized. Just at 
present the whole community is proletar- 
ianized, and is made to feel the poor man's 
concern as to where the next day's bread 
or the next day's cake is to come from ; 
if a man is used to having cake he will 
be as anxious to keep on having cake as 
the man who is used to having bread 
alone will be anxious to keep on having 
bread. In former times this experience 
would probably have been without definite 
significance or ultimate effect, but now I 
do not think it will be so. The friends 
of Altrurianization will be sure to press 
its lessons home ; and the people have 
been so widely awakened to the possibil- 
ity of escape from the evils of their system 
that they will not be so patient of them 
as they have been in former times. 

You might infer from the apparently 



18 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



unbroken front that the Americans show 
on the side of competition in the great 
conflict dividing every nation into oppos- 
ing camps, that there was no division 
amongst them. But there is very great 
division amongst them, and there is ac- 
ceptance of one Altrurian principle or 
another to such a degree that there may 
be said to be almost a universal tendency 
toward Altrurianization, though, as a 
whole, the vast majority of Americans 
still regard the idea of human brother- 
hood with distrust and dislike. No doubt 
they will now patch np some sort of finan- 
cial modus vivendi, and go on as before ; 
in fact, there is no reason why they 
should not, in their conception of things. 
There was no reason why the panic should 
have come, and there is no reason why it 
should not go ; but still, I do not think 
it will have come and gone without 
something more of question than former 
panics. 

The friends of Altrurianization will not 
fail to bring before the American people 
some question of the very nature of 
money, and of the essential evil of it, as 
they understand money. They will try 
to show that accumulated money, as a 
means of providing against want, is al- 
ways more or less a failure in private 
hands ; that it does not do its office ; that 
it evades the hardest clutch when its need 
is greatest. They will teach every man, 
from his own experience and conscience, 
that it is necessarily corrupting ; that it 
is the source of most vices, and the in- 
centive, direct or indirect, of almost every 
crime. They will prove that these are 
not the mere accidents of money, but are 
its essentials ; and that a thing invented 
to create or to recognize economic inequal- 
ity among men can never be otherwise 
than hurtful to them. They will preach 
the Altrurian notion of money, as the 
measure of work done and the warrant of 
need to be relieved, which in a civilized 
state can have no use but to issue from 
the commonwealth to the man who has 
worked, and return to the commonwealth 
from the man who has satisfied his wants 
with it. As yet, most Americans believe 
that money can be innocently gathered into 
one man's hands by his cunning and his 
skill, and as innocently taken from an- 
other's through his misfortune or his weak- 
ness. This primitive notion of money, 



which is known to us historically, is of 
actual effect among them ; and though I 
was aware of the fact before I came to 
America, as you are now, I had no idea 
of the infernal variety of the evil. 

In Altruria we cannot imagine a starv- 
ing man in rags, passing the threshold 
of another man surfeited with every 
luxury and warranted in his opulence by 
the same law that dooms the beggar to 
destitution. But this is a spectacle so 
common in this great typical American 
city that no one would turn to look at 
it. In fact, both the beggar and the 
millionaire recognize the situation as 
something almost normal. Charity, the 
love of man and the fear of God, as the 
Americans know it, does not propose to 
equalize the monstrous conditions, or to do 
more than afford alleviation at the best, 
until the wretch in the gutter can some- 
how win from the wretch in the palace 
the chance to earn a miserable wage. 
This chance is regarded not as his right ; 
it is his privilege, and it is accorded 
him usually at the cost of half a dozen 
other wretches, who are left outcast by it. 
It is money that creates this evil, and yet 
the Americans think that money is some- 
how a good thing ; and they think they 
are the most prosperous people on earth, 
because they have more moneyed men 
among them than any other people. 

I know, my dear Cyril, how strange 
all this will seem to you, how impossible, 
in spite of your study of American condi- 
tions. I remember how we used to talk 
of America together, before I planned my 
present visit, and how we disputed the 
general Altrurian notion of this country, 
as necessarily mistaken, because we said 
that such things could not be in a repub- 
lic and a democracy. We had our dreams 
of a system different from ours, a system 
which vaunted itself the realization, 
above all others, of the individuality 
which we Altrurians prize more than ev- 
erything else. We felt that our emissaries 
must have been hasty or mistaken in 
their observations, but you have only to 
visit this democratic republic, to under- 
stand that they have no such thing as 
individuality here, and that in condi- 
tions where one man depends upon an- 
other man for the chance of earning his 
bread, there can be no more liberty than 
there is equality. 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



19 



The Americans still imagine that they 
have liberty, but as for the equality which 
we supposed the aim of their democracy, 
nobody any longer even pretends that 
it is, or that it can be. With the rich 
there is a cynical contempt of it ; with 
the poor a cynical despair of it. The 
division into classes here is made as 
sharply as in any country of Europe, and 
the lines are passed only by the gain or 
the loss of money. I say only, but of 
course there are exceptions. The career 
is still open to the talents, and the ple- 
beian rich here are glad to ally themselves 
with the patrician poor of Europe ; but 
what I say holds good of the vast major- 
ity of cases. Every tendency of economic 
and social life is a tendency to greater 
and greater difference between the classes ; 
and in New York, which is the most typ- 
ical of American cities, the tendency is 
swifter and stronger than in other places. 

It is for this reason that I have come 
here for the winter before I leave these 
shores, as I hope, forever. My American 
sojourn has been a passionate disappoint- 
ment from first to last : it has been a 
grief which I cannot express to you, for 
the people are at heart so noble, so gen- 
erous, so magnanimous, so infinitely bet- 
ter than their conditions that my pity for 
them has been as great as my detestation 
of the terms on which they accept life. 
I cannot convey to you the pathos with 
which the spectacle of their contradic- 
tions fills me ; I can only say that if I 
were an American with nothing but a 
competitive conception of life, as a war- 
fare in which the strong must perpetually 
and even involuntarily oppress the weak, 
as a race in which the swift must seize 
every advantage of the slow, as a game in 
which the shrewd must outwit the simple, 
I would not accept life at all. But, of 
course, I speak as an Altrurian, and I warn 
you that an utter abhorrence of the situ- 
ation would ignore a thousand things 
that are lovely and of good report. It 
would ignore the most heroic self-sac- 
rifice, the most romantic martyrdom, the 
spectacle of unnumbered brave and good, 
who do not the less sublimely lay their 
hearts upon the altar, because they lay 
them futilely there. 

It is the exceptional character of what 
is generous and noble in the Americans, 
this accidental, this vicarious nature of 



their heroism and their martyrdom, that 
moves me to a pity for which there seems 
no relief but laughter. They pray as we 
do that God's will may be done here, and 
His kingdom come on earth as it is in 
heaven, but they reject both because, 
as they say, that they are against human 
nature. They do this in spite of those 
instances of heavenly goodness among 
them, which they honor as much as we 
do, and admire even more, since these 
things are not so difficult with us as 
with them. They fancy that goodness, 
and gentleness, and unselfishness, would 
somehow lose their value if they were the 
rule and not the exception, that they 
would become cheap in becoming com- 
mon. Perhaps I can best make you un- 
derstand all this by an illustration drawn 
from the aesthetic aspect of this vast city, 
which, I suppose is upon the whole, the 
ugliest city in the world. Ugliness is 
the rule in the architecture, which is for 
far the greatest part not merely ignoble 
and mean but positively offensive, insult- 
ing the eye by every conceivable or in- 
conceivable stupidity and vulgarity of 
form. But in the midst of the chaotic 
ugliness there is from time to time, and 
from space to space, a beautiful edifice 
erected by some artist who has been able 
so far to circumvent some millionaire as 
to turn his money to that effect. I could 
instance half a score of exquisite master- 
pieces of this sort, but you would not be 
the wiser for my doing so. It is in archi- 
tecture more than in any other art that 
the Americans have shown themselves 
gifted, but they have not shown it to such 
effect as to characterize their richest and 
greatest city with architectural beauty. 
On the contrar}', so far from redeeming 
their environment, these gracious struct- 
ures are lost and annulled in it. Your 
pleasure in them is spoiled by the sight 
of some monstrosity next to them, or by 
the sea of hideous forms that welters 
round them and overwhelms them from 
every side. They do not stand out from 
the sordid mass ; they sink into it and 
leave you thinking of that, and bruised and 
quivering from the affront and hurt of it. 
Commend me lovingly to all the Al- 
trurians, and believe me, dear Cyril, most 
affectionately and constant^, 
Your friend, 

Aristides Homos. 



20 



Pfe £ 



^ 



^ 



N^" ^^ 



-^ g^S^;^ ^^ 



hta 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN 



TRAVELLER. 



.* 



By W. I). Howells. 



IT. 



50 



Chicago, Sept. 28, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

When I last wrote you, I thought to have 
settled quietly down in New York for the rest 
of my stay in America, and given my time 
wholly to the study of its life, which seemed 
to me typical of the life of the whole country. 
I do not know, even now, that I should wish 
altogether to revise this impression ; it still 
appears to me just, if not so distinct and so 
decisive, as it appeared before I saw Chicago, 
or rather the World's Fair City at Chicago, 
which is what I want to write you of. Chi- 
cago, one might say, was after all only a 
Newer York, an ultimated Manhattan, the 
realized ideal of that largeness, loudness and 
fastness, which New York has persuaded the 
Americans is metropolitan. But after seeing 
the World's Fair City here, I feel as if I 
had caught a glimpse of the glorious capitals 
which will whiten the hills and shores of the 
east and the borderless plains of the west, 
when the New York and the Newer York of 
today shall seem to all the future Americans 
as impossible as they would seem to any 
Altrurian now. 

To one of our philosophy it will not be 
wonderful that this Altrurian miracle should 
have been wrought here in the very heart, 
and from the very heart, of egoism seven 
times heated in the fiery competition hitherto 
the sole joy of this strange people. We know 



LETTERS OF AN A ETRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



21 



that like produces like only up to a certain 
point, and that then unlike conies of like 
since all things are of one essence ; that 
from life comes death at last, and from 
death comes life again in the final issue. 
Yet it would be useless trying to persuade 
most Americans that the World's Fair City 
was not the effect, the fine flower, of the 
competition which underlies their econ- 
omy, but was the first fruits of the princi- 
ple of emulation which animates our 
happy commonwealth, and gives men, as 
no where else on earth, a foretaste of 
heaven. If I were writing to an Amer- 
ican I should have to supply him with 
proofs and argue facts at every moment, 
which will be self-evident to you in their 
mere statement. 

I confess that I was very loth to leave 
New York, which I fancied I was begin- 
ning to see whole, after my first fragmen- 
tary glimpses of it. But I perceive now 
that without a sight of the White City (as 
the Americans with their instant poetry 
called the official group of edifices at the 
great Fair) and the knowledge of its his- 
tory, which I could have realized nowhere 
but in its presence, New York would have 
wanted the relief, the projection, in which 
I shall hereafter be able to study it. For 
the worst effect of sojourn in an egoistic 
civilization ( I always use this word for 
lack of a closer descriptive) is that Altru- 
rian motives and efforts become incredi- 
ble, and almost inconceivable. But the 
Fair City is a bit of Altruria : it is as if 
the capital of one of our Regions had set 
sail and landed somehow on the shores 
of the vast inland sea, where the Fair 
City lifts its domes and columns. 

Its story, which I need not rehearse to 
you at any length, records the first great 
triumph of Altrurian principles among 
this people in a work of peace ; in their 
mighty civil war they were Altrurian 
enough ; and more than once they have 
proved themselves capable of a magnifi- 
cent self-sacrifice in bloodshed, but here 
for the first time in their pitiless economic 
struggle, their habitual warfare in which 
they neither give nor ask quarter, and 
take no prisoners, the interests submitted 
to the arts, and lent themselves as frankly 
to the work as if there had never been a 
question of money in the world. From 
the beginning it was believed that there 
could be no profit in the Fair ; money 



loss was expected and accepted as a nec- 
essary part of the greater gain ; and when 
the question passed from how much to 
how, in the discussion of the ways and 
means of creating that beauty which is 
the supreme use, the capitalists put 
themselves into the hands of the artists. 
They did not do it at once, and they did 
not all do it willingly. It is a curious 
trait of the American who has made 
money that he thinks he can make any- 
thing ; and the Chicago millionaires who 
found themselves authorized by the na- 
tion to spend their money in the creation 
of the greatest marvel of the competitive 
world, thought themselves fully compe- 
tent to work the miracle, or to choose the 
men who would work it according to their 
ideals. But their clarification, if it was 
not as swift as the passage of light was 
thorough, and I do not suppose there is 
now any group of rich men in Europe or 
America who have so luminous a sense 
of the true relations of the arts and the 
interests as they. The notion of a com- 
petition among the artists, which is the 
practical American's notion of the way 
to get the best art, was at length rejected 
by these most practical Americans, and 
one mind large enough to conceive the 
true means and strong enough to give 
its conception effect was empowered to in- 
vite the free cooperation of the arts through 




22 



LETTERS OF AN A ETRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



the foremost artists of the country. As 
yet the governmental function is so 
weak here that the national part in 
the work was chiefly obstructive, and 
finally null; and when it came to this 
there remained an opportunity for the 
arts, un-limited as to means and unhamp- 
ered by conditions. 

For the different buildings to be erected, 
different architects were chosen ; and for 
the first time since the great ages, since 
the beauty of antiquity and the elegance 
of the renaissance, the arts were reunited. 
The greatest landscape gardeners, archi- 
tects, sculptors and painters, gathered 
at Chicago for a joyous interchange of 
ideas and criticisms ; and the miracle of 
beauty which they have wrought grew 
openly in their breath and under their 
hands. Each did his work and had his 
way with it, but in this congress of 
gifted minds, of sensitive spirits, each 
profited by the censure of all, and there 
were certain features of the work — as for 
instance, the exquisite peristyle dividing 
the city from the lake — which were the 
result of successive impulses and sug- 
gestions from so many different artists 
that it would be hard to divide the honor 
among them with exactness. No one, 
however, seems to have been envious of 
another's share, and each one gave his 
talent as freely as the millionaires gave 
their money. These great artists will- 
ingly accepted a fifth, a tenth, of the 
gain which they could have commanded 
in a private enterprise, and lavished their 
time upon the opportunity afforded them, 
for the pleasure of it, the pride of it, 
the pure good of it. 

Of the effect, of the visible, tangible 
result, what better can I say, than that in 
its presence I felt myself again in Altru- 
ria? The tears came, and the pillared 
porches swam against my vision; 
through the hard nasal American tones, 
the liquid notes of our own speech stole 
to my inner ear; I saw under the care- 
worn masks of the competitive crowds, 
the peace, the rest of the dear Altrurian 
face; the gay tints of our own simple 
costumes eclipsed the different versions of 
the Paris fashions about me. I was at 
home once more, and my heart over- 
flowed with patriotic rapture in this 
strange land, so remote from ours in 
everything, that at times Altruria really 



seems to me the dream which the Amer- 
icans think it. 

I first saw the Fair City by night, from 
one of the electric launches which ply 
upon the lagoon; and under the dimmed 
heaven, in the splendor of the hundred 
moony arc-lamps of the esplanades, and 
the myriad incandescent bubbles that 
beaded the white quays, and defined the 
structural lines of dome and porch and 
pediment, I found myself in the midst 
of the Court of Honor, which you will 
recognize on the general plan and the 
photographs I enclose. We fronted the 
beautiful Agricultural building, which I 
think fitly the finest in the city, though 
many prefer the perfect Greek of the Art 
building ; and on our right was the Ad- 
ministration building with its coroneted 
dome, and the magnificent sculptured 
fountain before it, turned silver in the ra- 
diance of the clustered electric jets at 
either side. On our right was the glorious 
peristyle, serene, pure, silent, lifting a 
population of statues against the night, 
and dividing the lagoon from the lake, 
whose soft moan came appealingly 
through the pillared spaces, and added 
a divine heartache to my ecstacy. Here a 
group of statuary showed itself promi- 
nently on quay or cornice ; we caught 
the flamy curve of a bridge's arch ; a 
pale column lifted its jutting prores into 
the light ; but nothing insisted ; all was 
harmonized to one effect of beauty, as if 
in symbol of the concentered impulses 
which had created it. For the moment 
I could not believe that so foul a thing 
as money could have been even the means 
of its creation. I call the effect creation 
because it is divinely beautiful, but no 
doubt suggestion would be a better word, 
since they have here merely sketched in 
stucco what we have executed in marble 
in each of our Regionic capitals. 

In grandeur of design and freedom of 
expression, it is perhaps even nobler than 
the public edifices of some of these, as I 
had to acknowledge at another moment, 
when we rounded the shores of the 
Wooded Island which forms the heart of 
the lagoon, and the launch slowed while 
we got the effect of its black foliage 
against the vast lateral expanse of the 
Liberal Arts building. Then, indeed, I 
was reminded of our national capitol, 
when it shows its mighty mass above 



LETTERS OE AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER, 



23 



the bosks around it, on some anniversary 
night of our Evolution. 

But the illusion of Altruria was very 
vivid at many moments in the Fair City, 
where I have spent the happiest days of 
my stay in America, perhaps because the 
place is so little American in the accepted 
sense. It is like our own cities in being 
a design, the effect of a principle, and not 
the straggling and shapeless accretion of 
accident. You will see, from the charts 
and views I send you, something of the 
design in detail, but you can form only a 
dim conception of the skill with which 
the natural advantages of the site have 
been turned to account, and even its dis- 
advantages have been transmuted to the 
beauty which is the highest and last 
result of all. There was not only the 
great lake here, which contributes so 
greatly to this beauty, but there were 
marshes to be drained and dredged be- 
fore its pure waters could be invited in. 
The trees which at different points offer 
the contrast of their foliage to the white 
of the edifices, remain from wilding 
growths which overspread the swamps 
and sand dunes, and which had to be 
destroyed in great part before these lovely 
groves could be evoked from them. The 
earth itself, which now of all the earth 
seems the spot best adapted to the 
site of such a city, had literally 
to be formed anew for the use it 
has been put to. There is now no 
shadow, no hint of the gigantic 
difficulties of the undertaking, 
which was carried on in the true 
Altrurian spirit, so far as the capitalists 
and artists were concerned, and with a joy 
like ours in seeing nature yield herself to 
the enlightened will of man. If I told 
you how time itself was overcome in this 
work by the swiftness of modern methods, 
it would be nothing new to you, for we are 
used to seeing the powerful machinery of 
our engineers change the face of the land- 



scape, without stay for the slow processes 
of other days, when the ax and the saw 
wrought for years in the destruction of 
the forests that now vanish in a night. 
But to the Americans these things are 
still novel, and they boast of the speed 
with which the trees were dragged from 
the soil where they were rooted, and the 
morasses were effaced, and the wastes of 
sand made to smile with the verdure that 
now forms the most enchanting feature 
of their normal city. 

They dwell upon this, and they do not 
seem to feel as I do the exquisite simpli- 
city with which its life is operated, the 
perfection with which it is policed, and 
the thoroughness with which it has been 
dedicated to health as well as beauty. In 




A BIT OF THK GERMAN BU1M)IN(, 



24 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



fact, I fancy that very few out of the mill- 
ions who visit this gala town realize that 
it has its own system of drainage, lighting 
and transportation, and its own govern- 
ment, which looks as scrupulously to the 
general comfort and cleanliness, as if 
these were the private concern of each 
member of the government. This is, as 
it is with us, military in form, and the 
same precision and discipline which give 
us the ease and freedom of our civic life, 
proceed here from the same spirit and 
the same means. The Columbian Guards, 
as they are called, who are here at every 
turn, to keep order and to care for the pleas- 
ure as well as the welfare of the people, 
have been trained by officers of the United 
States army, who still command them, 
and they are amenable to the rules govern- 
ing the only body in America whose ideal 
is not interest but duty. Every night, 
the whole place is cleansed of the rubbish 
which the visitors leave behind them, as 
thoroughly as if it were a camp. It is 
merely the litter of lunch-boxes and waste 
paper which has to be looked after, for 
there is little of the filth resulting in 
all other American cities from the use of 
the horse, which is still employed in them 
so many eenturies after it has been ban- 
ished from ours. The United States mail- 
carts and the watering-carts are indeed 
anomalously drawn through the Fair City 
thoroughfares by horses, but wheeled 
chairs pushed about by a corps of high 
school boys and college undergraduates 
form the means of transportation by land 
for those who do not choose to walk. On 
the water, the electric launches are quite 
of our own pattern, and steam is allowed 
only on the boats which carry people out 
into the lake for a view of the peristyle. 
But you can get this by walking, and as 
in Venice, which is represented here by a 
fleet of gondolas, there are bridges that 
enable you to reach every desirable point 
on the lagoon. 

When I have spoken of all this to my 
American friends they have not perceived 
the moral value of it, and when I have 
insisted upon the practical perfection of 
the scheme apparent in the whole, they 
have admitted it, but answered me that it 
would never do for a business city, where 
there was something going on besides the 
pleasure of the eyes and the edification of 
the mind. When I tell them that this is 



all that our Altrurian cities are for, they 
do not understand me ; they ask where 
the money is made that the people live 
on in such play-cities ; and we are alike 
driven to despair when I try to explain 
that we have no money, and should think 
it futile and impious to have any. 

I do not believe they quite appreciate 
the intelligence with which the Fair City 
proper has been separated, with a view to 
its value as an object lesson, from all the 
state and national buildings in the ground. 
Some of the national buildings, notably 
those of Germany and Sweden, are very 
picturesque, but the rest decline through 
various grades of inferiority, down to the 
level of the State buildings. Of these, 
only the California and the New York 
buildings have a beauty comparable to 
that of the Fair City : the California 
house, as a reminiscence of the Spanish ec- 
clesiastical architecture in which her early 
history is recorded, and the New York 
house, as a sumptuous expression of the 
art which ministers to the luxury of the 
richest and greatest State of the Union 

By still another remove the competitive 
life of the present epoch is relegated to the 
long avenue remotest from the White City, 
which you will find marked as the Mid- 
way Plaisance. Even this, where a hun- 
dred shows rival one another in a furious 
advertisement for the favor of the passer, 
there is so much of a high interest that I 
am somewhat loth to instance it as actu- 
ated by an inferior principle ; and I do so 
only for the sake of the contrast. In the 
Fair City, everything is free; in the Plais- 
ance everything must be paid for. You 
strike at once here the hard level of the 
outside western world ; and the Orient, 
which has mainly peopled the Plaisance, 
with its theaters and restaurants and 
shops, takes the tint of the ordinary Amer- 
ican enterprise, and puts on somewhat 
the manners of the ordinary American 
hustler. It is not really so* bad as that, 
but it is worse than American in some of 
the appeals it makes to the American pub- 
lic, which is decent if it is dull, and re- 
spectable if it is rapacious. The lascivious 
dances of the East are here, in the Persian 
and Turkish and Egyptian theaters, as 
well as the exquisite archaic drama of the 
Javanese and the Chinese in their village 
and temple. One could spend man}' days 
in the Plaisance, always entertainingly, 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



25 



whether profitably or unprofitably; but 
whether one visited the Samoan or Daho- 
meyan in his hut, the Bedouin and the 
L,ap in their camps; the delicate Javanese 
in his bamboo cottage, or the American 
Indian in his tepee, one must be aware 
that the citizens of the Plaisance are not 
there for their health, as the Americans 
quaintly say, but for the money there is 
in it. Some of the reproductions of his- 
torical and foreign scenes are excellent, 
like the irregular square of Old Vienna, 
with its quaintly built and quaintly dec- 
orated shops; the German village, 
with its admirably realized castle / \ 
and chalet ; and the Cair- \J~_ ' 

ene street, with its mot- 
ley oriental life; but these 
are all there for the profit 
to be had from the pleas- 
ure of their visitors, who 
seem to pay as freely as 
they talk through their 
noses. The great Ferris 
wheel itself, with its circle 
revolving by night and by 
day in an orbit incom- 
parably vast, is in the 
last analysis a money- 
making contrivance. 

I have tried to make 
my American friends 
see the difference, as I 
do, between the motive 
that created the Fair 
City, and the motive 
that created the Plais- 
ance, but both seem to 



them alike 
the outcome 
of the princi- 
ple which 
they still be- 
lieve ani- 
mates their 
whole life. 
They think 
both an effect 
of the com- 
petitive con- 
ditions in 
which they 
glory, n ot 
knowing- that 






their conditions are now purely monopolis- 
tic, and not perceiving that the White City 
is the work of an armistice between the 
commercial interests ruling them. I ex- 
pressed this belief to one of them, the 
banker, whom I met last summer in 
' the country, and whom I ran upon one 
night during the first week of my visit 
here ; and he said there could certainly 
be that view of it. But, like the rest, 
he asked where the money would have 
come from without the warfare of com- 
petitive conditions, and he said he 
could not make out how we got the 
money for our public works in Al- 
truria, or, in fact, how we paid 
~2^\ the piper. When I answered 
that as each one of us was se- 
cured by all against want, every 
one could freely give his labor, without 
money and without price, and the piper 
could play for the pure pleasure of play- 
ing, he looked stupefied and said incred- 
ulously, " Oh, come, now ! " 

" Why, how strange you Americans 
are," I could not help breaking out upon 
him, " with your talk about competition ! 
There is no competition among you a mo- 
ment longer than you can help, a moment 
after one proves himself stronger than 
another. Then you have monopoly, which 
even upon the limited scale it exists here 
is the only vital and fruitful principle, as 
you all see. And yet you are afraid to 
have it upon the largest possible scale, 



26 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURL4N TRAVELLER. 




the national scale, the scale commensur- 
ate with the whole body politic, which 
implicates care for every citizen as the 
liege of the collectivity, When you have 
monopoly of such proportions money wil 1 
cease to have any office among you, and 
such a beautiful creation as this will have 
effect from a consensus of the common 
wills and wishes." 

He listened patiently, and he answered 
amiably, "Yes, that is what you Altru- 
rians believe, I suppose, and certainly 
what you preach ; and if you look at it 
in that light, why there certainly is no 
competition left, except between the mon- 
opolies. But you must allow, my dear 
Homos," he went on, " that at least 
one of the twin fetishes of our barbarous 
worship has had something to do with 
the creation of all this beauty. I'll own 
that you have rather knocked the notion 
of competition on the head ; the money 
that made this thing possible never came 
from competition at all ; it came from 
some sort or shape of monopoly, as all 
money always does ; but what do you say 
about individuality? You can't say that 
individuality has had nothing to do with 
it. In fact, you can't deny that it has 
had everything to do with it, from the 
individuality of the several capitalists, 
up or down, to the individuality of the 
several artists. And will you pretend in 



the face of all this wonderful work that 
individuality is a bad thing ? " 

" Have I misrepresented myself and 
country so fatally," I returned, "as to 
have led you to suppose that the Altruri- 
ans thought individuality a bad thing? 
It seems to us the most precious gift of 
the Deity, the dearest and holiest posses- 
sion of his creatures. What I lament 
in America at every moment, what I la- 
ment even here, in the presence of a work 
so largely Altrurian in conception and 
execution as this, is the wholesale efface- 
ment, the heartbreaking obliteration of in- 
dividuality. I know very well that you 
can give me the name of the munificent 
millionaires — large-thoughted and noble- 
willed men — whose largesse made this 
splendor possible, and the name of every 
artist they freed to such a glorious oppor- 
tunity. Their individuality is lastingly 
safe in your memories ; but what of the 
artisans of "every kind and degree, whose 
patience and skill realized their ideals? 
Where will you find their names ? " 

My companions listened respectfully, 
but not very seriously, and in his reply he 
took refuge in that humor peculiar to the 
Americans : a sort of ether where they may 
draw breath for a moment free from the 
stifling despair which must fill every true 
man among them when he thinks how far 
short of their ideal their reality has fallen. 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



27 




For they were once a people with the 
noblest ideal ; we were not mistaken about 
that ; they did, indeed, intend the greatest 
good to the greatest number, and not 
merely the largest purse to the longest 
head. They are a proud people, and it is 
hard for them to confess that they have 
wandered from the right way, and fallen 
into a limitless bog, where they can only 
bemire themselves more and more till its 
miasms choke them or its foul waters 
close over them. 

" My dear fellow," the banker laughed, 
' ' you are very easily answered. You will 
find their names on the pay-rolls, where, 
I've no doubt, they preferred to have them. 
Why, there was an army of them ; and we 
don't erect monuments to private soldiers, 
except in the lump. How would you have 
managed it in Altruria? " 

"In Altruria," I replied, "every man 
who drove a nail, or stretched a line, or laid 
a trowel upon such a work, would have 
had his name somehow inscribed upon it, 
where he could find it, and point it out to 
those dear to him and proud of him. In- 
dividuality ! I find no record of it here, 
unless it is the individuality of the few. 
That of the many makes no sign from 
the oblivion in which it is lost, either in 
these public works of artistic coopera- 
tion, or the exhibits of your monopolistic 
competition. I have wandered through 



these vast edifices and looked for the 
names of the men who wrought the mar- 
vels of ingenuity that fill them. But I 
have not often found the name even of a 
man who owns them. I have found the 
styles of the firms, the companies, the 
trusts which turn them out as impersonally 
as if no heart had ever ached or glowed 
in imagining and embodying them. This 
whole mighty industrial display is in so 
far dehumanized ; and yet you talk of 
individuality as one of j'our animating 
principles!" 

'"You are hopelessly unbusinesslike, 
my dear Homos," said the banker, "but 
I like your unpracticability. There is 
something charming in it ; there is, 
really ; and I enjoy it particularly at this 
moment because it has enabled me to get 
back my superiority to Chicago. I am 
a Bostonian, you know, and I came out 
herewith all the misgivings which a Bos- 
tonian begins to secrete as soon as he gets 
west of the Back Bay Fens. It is a sur- 
vival of Puritanism in us. In the old 
times, you know, every Bostonian, no 
matter how he prayed and professed, felt 
it in his bones that he was one of the 
eiect, and we each feel so still ; only, then 
God elected us, and now we elect oui- 
selves. Fancy such a man confronted 
with such an achievement as this, and 
unfriended yet by an Altrurian traveller ! 

15 



28 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



Why, x have gone about the last three days 
inwardly bowed down before Chicago in 
the most humiliating fashion. I've said 
to myself that our eastern fellows did half 
the thing, perhaps the best half; but then 
I had to own it was Chicago that im- 
agined letting them do it, that imagined 
the thing as a whole, and I had to give 
Chicago the glory. When I looked at it 
I had to foigive Chicago Chicago, but 
now that you've set me right about the 
matter, and I see that the whole thing is 
dehumanized, I shall feel quite easy, and 
I shall not give Chicago any more credit 
than is due." 

I saw that he was joking, but I did not 
see how far, and I thought it best not to 
take him in joke at all. "Ah, I don't 
think you can give her too much credit, 
even if you take her at the worst. It 
seems to me, from what I have seen of 
your country — and, of course, I speak from 
a foreigner's knowledge only — that no 
other American city could have brought 
this to pass." 

1 ' You must come and stay with us a 
while in Boston," said the banker ; and 
he smiled. " One other city could have 
done it. Boston has the public spirit and 
Boston has the money, but perhaps Bos- 
ton has not the ambition. Perhaps we 
give ourselves in Boston too much to a 
sense of the accomplished fact. If that 
is a fault, it is the only fault conceivable 
of us. Here in Chicago they have the 
public spirit, and they have the money, 
and they are still anxious to do ; they are 
not content as we are, simply to be. Of 
course, they have not so much reason ! I 
don't know," he added thoughtfully, "but 
it comes in the end to what you were say- 
ing, and no other American city but Chi- 
cago could have brought this to pass. 
Leaving everything else out of the ques- 
tion, I doubt if any other community 
could have fancied the thing in its vast- 
ness ; and the vastness seems an essential 
condition of the beauty. You couldn't 
possibly say it was pretty, for instance ; if 
you admitted it was fine you would have to 
say it was beautiful. To be sure, if it were 
possible to have too much of a good thing, 
there are certain states of one's legs, here, 
when one could say there was too much 
of it ; but that is not possible. But come, 
now ; be honest for once, my dear fellow, 
and confess that you really prefer the 



Midway Plaisance to the Fair City ! " 
I looked at him with silent reproach, and 

he broke out laughing, and took me by 

the arm. 

"At any rate," he said, "let us go 

down there, and get something to eat. 

' The glory that was Greece, 
And the grandeur that was Rome,' 

here, take it out of you so that I find my- 
self wanting lunch about every three 
hours. It's nearly as long as that now, 
since I dined, and I feel an irresistible 
yearning for Old Vienna, where that 
pinchbeck halberdier of a watchman is 
just now crying the hour of nine." 

"Oh, is it so late as that?" I began, 
for I like to keep our Altrurian hours 
even here, when I can, and I was going 
to say that I could not go with him when 
he continued : 

"They won't turn us out, if that's what 
you mean. Theoretically, they do turn 
people out toward the small hours, but 
practically, one can stay here all night, I 
believe. That's a charming thing about 
the Fair, and I suppose it's rather Chi- 
cagoan; if we'd had the Fair in Boston, 
every soul would have had to leave before 
midnight. We couldn't have helped 
turning them out, from the mere oldmaid- 
ishness of our Puritanic tradition, and 
not because we really minded their staying. 
In New York they would have put them 
out from Keltic imperiousness, and locked 
them up in the station-house when they 
got them out, especially if they were 
sober and inoffensive." 

I could not follow him in this very well, 
or in the playful allusiveness of his talk 
generally, though I have reported it, to 
give some notion of his manner; and so I 
said, by way of bringing him within 
easy range of my intelligence again, " I 
have seen no one here who showed signs 
of drink." 

" No," he returned. " What a serious, 
and peaceable, and gentle crowd it is ! I 
haven't witnessed a rudeness, or even an 
unkindness, since I've been here, and no- 
body looks as if anything stronger than 
apollinaris had passed his lips for a fort- 
night. They seem, the vast majority of 
them, to pass their time in the Fair City, 
and I wish I could flatter myself that 
they preferred it, as you wish me to 
think you do, to the Plaisance. Perhaps 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



29 



they are really more interested in the 
mechanical arts, and even the fine arts, 
than they are in the muscle dances, but 
I'm afraid it's partly because there isn't 
an additional charge for admission to 
those improving exhibits in the official 
buildings. Though I dare say that most 
of the hardhanded folks here, are really 
concerned in transportation and agricul- 
tural implements to a degree that it is 
difficult for their more cultivated fellow- 
countrymen to conceive of. Then, the 
merely instructive and historical features 
must have an incredible lot to say to 
them. We people who have had advan- 
tages, as we call them, can't begin to 
understand the state that most of us come 
here in, the state of enlightened ignor- 
ance, as one may call it, when we know 
how little we know, and are anxious to 
know more. But I congratulate you, 
Homos, on the opportunity you have to 
learn America personally, here; you 
won't easily have such another chance. 
I'm glad for your sake, too, that it (the 
crowd) is mainly a western and south- 
western crowd, a Mississippi Valley 
crowd. You can tell it by their accent. 
It's a mistake to suppose that New 
England has a monopoly of the habit 
of speaking through the nose. We may 
have invented it, but we have imparted 
it apparently to the whole west, as the 
Scotch -Irish of Pennsylvania have lent 
the twist of their "r," and the com- 
bined result is something frightful. But 
it's the only frightful thing about the 
westerners, as I find them here. Their 
fashions are not the latest, but they are 



not only well behaved, they are on the 
average pretty well dressed, as the cloth- 
ing store and the paper pattern dress our 
people. And they look pathetically 
good ! When I think how hard-worked 
they all are, and what lonely lives most 
of them live on their solitary farms, I 
wonder they don't descend upon me with 
the whoop of savages. You're very fond 
of equality, my dear Homos ! How do you 
like the equality of the American effect 
here? It's a vast level, as unbroken as 
the plains that seemed to widen as I 
came over them in the cars to Chicago, 
and that go widening on, I suppose, to 
the sunset itself. I won't speak of the 
people, but I will say the plains were 
dreary." 

" Yes," I assented, for those plains had 
made me melancholy, too. They looked 
so habitable, and they were so solitary, 
though I could see that they were broken 
by the lines of cultivated fields, which 
were being plowed for wheat, or were left 
standing with their interminable ranks 
of maize. From time to time one caught 
sight of a forlorn farmstead, with a wind- 
mill beside it, making helpless play with 
its vanes as if it were vainly struggling 
to take flight from the monotonous land- 
scape. There was nothing of the cheer- 
fulness of our Altrurian farm villages ; 
and I could understand how a dull uni- 
formity of the human type might result 
from such an environment, as the banker 
intimated. 

I have made some attempts, here, to get 
upon speaking terms with these aver- 
age people, but I have not found them 




30 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



conversible. Very likely they distrusted 
my advances, from the warnings given 
them to beware of imposters and thieves 
at the Fair ; it is one of the necessities of 
daily life in a competitive civilization, 
that you must be on your guard against 
strangers lest they cheat or rob you. It 
is hard for me to understand this, coming 
from a land where there is no theft and 
can be none, because there is no private 
property, and I have often bruised my- 
self to no purpose in attempting the ac- 
quaintance of my fellow-visitors of the 
Fair. They never make any attempt at 
mine ; no one has asked me a favor, here, 
or even a question ; but each remains 
bent, in an intense preoccupation, upon 
seeing the most he can in the shortest 
time for the least money. Of course, 
there are many of the more cultivated vis- 
itors, who are more responsive, and who 
show themselves at least interested in 
me as a fellow-stranger ; but these, though 
they are positively many, are, after all, 
relatively few. The vast bulk, the massed 
members of that immense equality which 
fatigued my friend, the banker, by its 
mere aspect, were shy of me, and I do not 
feel that I came to know any of them per- 
sonally. They strolled singly, or in pairs, 
or by family groups, up and down the 
streets of the Fair City, or the noisy 
thoroughfare of the Plaisance, or through 
the different buildings, quiescent, patient, 
inoffensive, but reserved and inapproach- 
able, as far as I was concerned. If they 
wished to know anything they asked the 
guards, who never failed in their duty of 
answering them fully and pleasantly. 
The people from the different states vis- 
ited their several State buildings, and 
seemed to be at home, there, with that 
instinctive sense of ownership which 
every one feels in a public edifice, and 
which is never tainted with the greedy 
wish to keep others out. They sat in 
long rows on the 



benches that lined the avenues, munch- 
ing the victuals they had mostly brought 
with them in the lunch-boxes which 
strewed the place at nightfall, and were 
gathered up by thousands in the policing 
of the grounds. If they were very luxu- 
rious, they went to the tables of those 
eating-houses where, if they ordered a cup 
of tea or coffee, they could spread out the 
repast from their boxes and enjoy it more 
at their ease. But in none of these places 
did I see any hilarity in them, and 
whether they thought it unseemly or not to 
show any gayety , they showed none. They 
were peacefully content within the limits 
of their equality, and where it ended, as 
from time to time it must, they betrayed 
no discontent. That is what always as- 
tonishes me in America. The man of the 
harder lot accepts it unmurmuringly and 
with no apparent sense of injustice in the 
easier lot of another. He suffers himself, 
without a word, to be worse housed, worse 
clad, worse fed, than his merely luckier 
brother, who could give him no reason 
for his better fortune that an Altrurian 
would hold valid. Here, at the Fair, for 
example, on the days when the German 
village is open to the crowd without 
charge, the crowd streams through with- 
out an envious glance at the people dining 
richly and expensively at the restaurants, 
with no greater right than the others have 
to feed poorly and cheaply from their 
paper boxes. In the Plaisance, weary old 
farmwives and delicate women of the arti- 
san class make way uncomplainingly for 
the ladies and gentlemen who can afford 
to hire wheeled chairs. As meekly and 
quietly they loiter by the shores of the 
lagoon and watch those who can pay to 
float upon their waters in the gondolas 
and electric launches. Everywhere the 
economic inequality 
is as passively ac- ,-£.. "^^\ 

cepted as if it were a \J ~^|\ 





LETTERS OF AN A ETRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



31 



« 



natural inequality, like difference 
in height or strength, or as if it 
were something of 
immemorial privi- 
lege, like birth and 
the feudal countries 
rope. Yet, 
these eco- 
Americans 
was not the 




inferior 
that he 





title in 
of Eu~ 
if one of 
nomically 
were told 
peer of any and ev- 
ery other Ameri- 
can, he would re- 
sent it as the grossest insult, 
such is the power of the invet- 
erate political illusion in which 
the nation has been bred. 

The banker and I sat long over our sup- 
per, in the graveled court of Old Vienna, 
talking of these things, and enjoying a bot- 
tle of delicate Rhenish wine under the mild 
September moon, not quite put out of 
countenance by the electric lamps. The 
gay parties about us broke up one after 
another, till we were left almost alone, and 
the watchman in his mediaeval dress, with 
a halberd in one hand, and a lantern in the 
other, came round to call the hour for the 
last time. Then my friend beckoned to 
the waiter for the account, and while the 
man stood figuring it up, the banker said 
to me : " Well, you must come to Boston a 
hundred years hence, to the next Colum- 
bian Fair, and we will show you every 
body trundled about and fed at the pub- 
lic expense. I suppose that's what you 
would like to see ? " 

" It is what we always see in Altruria," 
I answered. "I haven't the least doubt 
it will be so with you in much less than 
a hundred years." 

The banker was looking at the account 
the waiter handed him. He broke into an 
absent laugh, and then said to me, " I beg 
your pardon ! You were saying ? " 

" Oh, nothing," I answered, and then, 
as he took out his pocket-book to pay, he 
laid the bill on the table, and I could not 
help seeing what our little supper had 
cost him. It was twelve dollars ; and I 
was breathless ; it seemed to me that two 
would have been richly enough. 

"They give you a good meal here, 
don't you think ?" he said. "But the 
worst of having dined or supped well is 
reflecting that if you hadn't you could 
have given ten or twelve fellows, who 




will have to go to bed supperless, a hand- 
some surfeit ; that you could have bought 
twenty-five hungry men a full meal each; 
that you could have supplied forty-eight 
with plenty ; that you could have relieved 
the famine of a hundred and twenty-four. 
But what is the use ? If you think of 
these things you have no peace of your 
life!" 

I could not help answering, "We don't 
have to think of them in Altruria." 

" Ah, I dare say," answered the bank- 
er, as he tossed the waiter 
a dollar, and we rose and 
strolled out into the Plais- 
an-ce. "If all men were un- 
selfish, I 
should agree 
with you 
that Altru- 
rianism was 
w V best." 
"You can't 
have unself- 
ishness till 
you have Al- 
trurianism," I re- 
turned. " You can't 
put the cart before the 
horse." 

" Oh, yes, we can," he 
returned in his tone of 
banter. " We always put _ jfjpOfl 
the cart before the horse in "** 
America, so that the horse 
can see where the cart is 
going." 

We strolled up and down 
the Plaisance, where the 
crowd had thinned to a few 
stragglers like ourselves. 
Most of the show villages 
were silenced for the night. 
The sob of the Javanese wa- 
ter-wheel was hushed ; even 
the hubbub of the Chinese 
theater had ceased. The Sa- 
moans slept in their stucco 
huts ; the Bedouins were 







32 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



folded to slumber in their black tents. 
The great Ferris wheel hung motionless 
with its lamps like a planetary circle of 
fire in the sky. It was a moment that 
invited to musing, that made a tacit com- 
panionship precious. By an impulse to 
which my own feeling instantly responded, 
my friend passed his arm through mine. 

" Don't let us go home at all ! L,et us 
go over and sleep in the peristyle. I 
have never slept in a peristyle, and I 
have a fancy for trying it. Now, don't 
tell me you always sleep in peristyles in 
Altruria ! " 

I answered that we did not habitually, 
at least, and he professed that this was 
some comfort to him ; and then he went 
on to talk more seriously about the Fair, 
and the effect that it must have upon Am- 
erican civilization. He said that he hoped 
for an aesthetic effect from it, rather than 
any fresh impulse in material enterprise, 
which he thought the country did not 
need. It had inventions enough, mill- 
ionaires enough, prosperity enough; the 
great mass of the people lived as well and 
travelled as swiftly as they could desire. 
Now what they needed was some standard 
of taste, and this was what the Fair City 
would give them. He thought that it 
would at once have a great influence upon 
architecture, and sober and refine the art- 
ists who were to house the people; and 
that one might expect to see everywhere 
a return to the simplicity and beauty of 
the classic forms, after so much mere 
wandering and maundering in design, 
without authority or authenticity. 

I heartily agreed with him in condemn- 
ing the most that had yet been done in 
architecture in America, but I tried to 
make him observe that the simplicity of 
Greek architecture came out of the sim- 
plicity of Greek life, and the preference 
given in the Greek state to the intellectual 
over the industrial, to art over business. 
I pointed out that until there was some en- 
lightened municipal or national control of 
the matter, no excellence of example could 
avail, but that theclassicism of the Fair City 
would become, among a wilful and undis- 
ciplined people, a fad with the rich and a 
folly with the poor, and not a real taste 
with either class. I explained how with us 
the state absolutely forbade any man to 
aggrieve or insult the rest by the exhibi- 
tion of hisignorance in the exterior of his 



dwelling, and how finally architecture had 
become a government function, and fit 
dwellings were provided for all by artists 
who approved themselves to the public 
criticism. I ventured so far as to say 
that the whole competitive world, with 
the exception of a few artists, had indeed 
lost the sense of beauty, and I even added 
that the Americans as a people seemed 
never to have had it at all. 

He was not offended, as I had feared he 
might be, but asked me with perfect good 
nature what I meant. 

"Why, I mean that the Americans 
came into the world too late to have 
inherited that influence from the antique 
world which was lost even in Europe, 
when in mediaeval times the picturesque 
barbarously substituted itself for the 
beautiful, and a feeling for the quaint 
grew up in place of love for the perfect. " 

" I don't understand, quite," he said, 
but I'm interested. Goon!" 

"Why," I went on, "I have heard 
people rave over the beauty of the Fair 
City, and then go and rave over the beauty 
of the German village, or of Old Vienna, 
in the Plaisance. They were cultivated 
people, too ; but they did not seem to 
know that the reproduction of a feudal 
castle or of a street in the taste of the 
middle ages, could not be beautiful, and 
could at the best be only picturesque. 
Old Vienna is no more beautiful than the 
Javanese village, and the German village 
outrivals the Samoan village only in its 
greater adaptability to the purposes of the 
painter. There is in your modern com- 
petitive world very little beauty anywhere, 
but there is an abundance of picturesque- 
ness, of forms that may be reflected upon 
canvas, and impart the charm of their 
wild irregularity to all who look at the 
picture, though many who enjoy it there 
would fail of it in a study of the original. 
I will go so far as to say that there are 
points in New York, intrinsically so 
hideous that it makes me shudder to 
recall them — " 

" Don't recall them !" he pleaded. 

" Which would be much more capable 
of pictorial treatment than the Fair 
City, here," I continued. We had in 
fact got back to the Court of Honor, in 
the course of our talk, which I have only 
sketched here in the meagerest abstract. 
The incandescent lamps had been 



LETTERS OF AN A ETRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



33 



W^^h :',, 







A CORNER OF THE AGRICULTURAL BUILDING. 



quenched, and the arc-lights below and 
the moon above flooded the place with 
one silver, and the absence of the crowds 
that had earlier thronged it, left it to a 
solitude indescribably solemn and sweet. 
In that light, it was like a ghost of the 
antique world witnessing a loveliness lost 
to modern times everywhere but in our 
own happy country. 

I felt that silence would have been a fit- 
ter tribute to it than any words of mine, 
but my companion prompted me with an 
eager, "Well ! " and I went on. 

" This beauty that we see here is not 
at all picturesque. If a painter were to 
attempt to treat it picturesquely, he must 
abandon it in despair, because the charm 
of the picturesque is in irregularity, and 
the charm of the beautiful is in sym- 
metry, in just proportion, in equality. 
You Americans do not see that the work 
of man, who is the crown of animate life, 
can only be beautiful as it approaches the 
regularity expressive of beauty in that life. 
Any breathing thing that wants perfect 
balance of form or feature is in so far ulgy ; 
it is offensive and ridiculous, just as a per- 
fectly balanced tree or hill would be. 
Nature is picturesque, but what man 
creates should be beautiful, or else it is 



inferior. Since the Greeks, no people 
have divined this but the Altrurians, until 
now; and I do not believe that you would 
have begun to guess at it as you certainly 
have here, but for the spread of our ideas 
among you, and I do not believe this exam- 
ple will have any lasting effect with you 
unless you become Altrurianized. The 
highest quality of beauty is a spiritual 
quality." 

" I don't know precisely how far I 
have followed you," said my companion, 
who seemed struck by a novelty in 
truisms which are so trite with us, " but 
I certainly feel that there is something in 
what you say. You are probably right in 
your notion that the highest quality of 
beauty is a spiritual quality, and I should 
like very much to know what you think 
that spiritual quality is here." 

"The quality of self-sacrifice in the 
capitalists who gave their money, and in 
the artists who gave their talent without 
hope of material return, but only for 
the pleasure of authorizing and creating 
beauty that shall last forever in the mem- 
ory of those it has delighted." 

The banker smiled compassionately. 

" Ah, my dear fellow, you must realize 
that this was only a spurt. It could be 



34 



done once, but it couldn't be kept up." 

"Why not?" I asked. 

' ' Because people have got to live, even 
capitalists and artists have got to live, 
and they couldn't live by giving away 
wealth and giving away work, in our 
conditions." 

" But you will change the conditions!" 

"I doubt it," said the banker with 
another laugh. One of the Columbian 
guards passed near us, and faltered a lit- 
tle in his walk. " Do you want us to go 
out?" asked my friend. 

"No," the young fellow hesitated. "Oh 
no!" and he continued his round. 

" He hadn't the heart to turn us out." 
said the banker, " he would hate so to be 
turned out himself. I wonder what will 
become of all the poor fellows who are 
concerned in the government of the Fair 
City when they have to return to earth ! 
It will be rough on them." He lifted his 
head, and cast one long look upon the 
miracle about us. " Good heavens ! " he 
broke out, "And when they shut up shop, 



here, will all this beauty have to be de- 
stroyed, this fabric of a vision demol- 
ished ? It would be infamous, it would be 
sacrilegious ! I have heard some talk of 
their burning it, as the easiest way, the 
only way of getting rid of it. But it 
musn't be, it can't be." 

"No, it can't be," I responded fer- 
vently. "It may be rapt from sight in 
the flames like the prophet in his char- 
iot of fire ; but it will remain still in the 
hearts of } 7 our great people. An immor- 
tal principle, higher than use, higher 
even than beauty, is expressed in it, and 
the time will come when they will look 
back upon it, and recognize in it the first 
embodiment of the Altrurian idea among 
them, and will cherish it forever in their 
history, as the earliest achievement of 
a real civic life." 

I believe this, my dear Cyril, and I 
leave it with you as my final word con- 
cerning the great Columbian Fair. 
Yours in all brotherly affection, 
A. Homos. 




The Cosmopolitan 



35 



Vol. XVI. 



From every man according to his ability : to everyone according to his needs. 

JANUARY, 1894. 



No. 3. 




LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 

By W. D. Howells. 
A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



III. 



New York, October 24, 1893. 

WELL, my dear Cyril, I have re- 
turned to this Babylon, you see, 
from my fortnight's stay in that vision 
of Altruria at the great Fair in Chicago. 
I can, perhaps, give you some notion of 
the effect with me by saying that it is as 
if I were newly exiled and were exposing 
myself a second time to the shock of 
American conditions, stripped of the false 
hopes and romantic expectations which, 



in some sort, softened the impression at 
first. I knew what I had to look forward 
to when my eyes lost the last glimpse of 
the Fair City, and I confess that I had 
not much heart for it. If it had only been 
to arrive here, and at once take ship for 
home, I could have borne it ; but I had 
denied myself this, in the interest of the 
studies of plutocratic civilization which I 
wish to make, and this purpose could not 
support me under the burden that weighed 
my spirits down. I had seen what might 
be, in the Fair City, and now I was to see 



36 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 




again what the Americans say must be, 
in New York, and I shrank not only from 
the moral, but the physical ugliness of 
the thing. 

But, in fact, do not the two kinds of 
ugliness go together f I asked myself the 
question as I looked about me in the ridic- 
ulous sleeping-car I had taken passage in 
from Chicago. Money had been lavished 
upon its appointments, as if it had been 
designed for the state progress of some 
barbarous prince through his dominions, 
instead of the conveyance of simple repub- 
lican citizens from one place to another, 
on business. It was as expensively up- 
holstered as the bad taste of its designer 
could contrive, and a rich carpet under 
foot caught and kept whatever disease- 
germs were thrown off by the slumbering 
occupant in their long journey ; on the 
floor, at every seat, a silver-plated spit- 
toon ministered to the filthy national 
habit. The interior was of costly foreign 
wood, which was every where covered with 
a foolish and meaningless carving ; mir- 
rors framed into the panels reflected the 
spendthrift absurdity through the whole 
length of the saloon. Of course, this 
waste in the equipment and decoration 
of the car meant the exclusion of the 
poorer sort of travellers, who were obliged 
to sit up all night in the day-cars, when 



they might have been lodged, for a fifth 
of what I paid, in a sleeping-car much 
more tasteful, wholesome and secure than 
mine, which was destined, sooner or later, 
in the furious risks of American travel, to 
be whirled over the side of an embank- 
ment, or plunged through a broken bridge, 
or telescoped in a collision, or piled in a 
heap of shattered and ruined splendors 
like its own, and consumed in a holocaust 
to the American god Hustle. 

For not only are the comforts of travel 
here made so costly that none but the 
very well-to-do can afford them, but the 
service of the insufficiently manned trains 
and lines is overworked and underpaid. 
Even the poor negroes who make up the 
beds in the sleepers are scrimped of half 
a living by the companies which declare 
handsome dividends, and leave them to 
the charity of the fleeced and imperilled 
passengers. .The Americans are peculiarly 
proud of their sleeping-car system, though 
I can hardly believe that when he is 
pinned into a broken seat, the most in- 
fatuated American can get much pleasure, 
while the flames advance swiftly upon 
him, out of the carving of the woodwork, 
or even the brass capitals of the onyx 
columns supporting nothing at either end 
of the car-roof. But until he is placed in 
some such predicament, the American 



A BIT OF A L TRURIA IN NE IV YORK. 



37 



hears with acquiescence, if not com- 
placence, of the railroad slaughters which 
have brought the mortality of travel to 
and from the Fair during the past month 
up to a frightful sum. Naturally, if he 
does not mind the reports of these dis- 
asters, where his own name may any day 
appear in the list of killed or wounded, he 
is not vividly concerned in the fate of the 
thirty thousand trainmen who are an- 
nually mangled or massacred. He re- 
gards these dire statistics, apparently, as 
another proof of the immense activity of 
his country, and he does not stop, as he 
is hurled precariously over its continental 
spaces, and shot out of his train at his 
journey's end, from two to six hours late, 
to consider whether a public management 
of public affairs is not as well in econom- 
ics as in politics. 

I was fortunate in my journey to New 
York ; I arrived only two hours behind 
time, and I arrived safe and sound. The 
Americans are quite satisfied with the 
large average of people who arrive safe 
and sound, in spite of the large numbers 
who do neither ; and from time to time 
their newspapers print exultant articles 
to show how many get home in the full 
enjoyment of life and limb. I do not see 
that they celebrate so often the seasonable 
arrival of the surviving travellers, and, in 
fact, my experience of railroads in Amer- 



ica is that the trains 
seldom bring me to 
my journey's end at 
the appointed hour. 
On each great 
through - road there 
is one very rapid 
train, which has pre- 
cedence of all other 
travel and traffic, and 
which does arrive ai 
the hour fixed ; but 
the other trains, swift 
or slow, seem to come 
lagging in at all sorts 

of intervals after their schedule-time. If I 
instance my experience and observation of 
this fact, my friends are inclined to doubt 
it ; and if I insist upon matching it with 
their own, they allege the irregularity of 
the government trains in Germany, with- 
out seeming to know more about them 
than they know of their own trains. They 
at once begin to talk largely of the celerity 
and frequency of these, and to express 
their wonder that the companies should 
come so near keeping their word to the 
public as they sometimes do. 

However, I was thankful for my safety 
and my soundness, when I found myself 
again in New York, though I felt so loth 
to be here. If I could fitly have done so 
I would very willingly have turned and 




Reproduced through the courtesy of J. S. Johnstoi. 



38 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



taken the next train back to Chicago, 
since I must not take the next steamer on 
to Altruria. But if I had gone back, it 
could only have been for a fortnight more, 
since at the end of the month now so far 
spent, they must begin to destroy the 
beauty they have created in the Fair City 
there. I tried to console myself with this 
fact, but the sense of an irreparable 
loss, of banishment, of bereavement, re- 
mained with me for days, and is only now 
beginning to wear itself away into a kind 
of impersonal sorrow, and to blend with 
the bruise of my encounter with the brute 
ugliness of this place, which is none the 
less brute, because it is so often kindly. 
It is like the ugliness of some great un- 
wieldy monster, which looks so helpless 
and so appealing, that you cannot quite 
abhor it, but experience a sort of compas- 
sion for its unloveliness. I had thought 
of it in that way at a distance, but when 
I came to see it again, I found that, even 
in this aspect it was hard to bear. So I 
came up from the station to this hotel 
where I am now lodged, and where my 
windows overlook the long reaches of 
the beautiful Central Park at such a 
height that unless I drop my glance, 
none of the shapeless bulks of the city 



intrude themselves between me and the 
effect of a vast forest. My hotel is it- 
self one of the most preposterous of the 
structures which disfigure the city, if a 
city without a sky-line can be said to be 
disfigured by any particular structure. 
With several others as vast or as high, it 
forms a sort of gateway to the Park, from 
whose leafy depths, these edifices swag- 
gering upward unnumbered stories, look 
like detached cliffs in some broken and 
jagged mountain range. They are built 
with savage disregard to one another, or 
to the other buildings about them, and 
with no purpose, apparently, but to get 
the most money out of the narrowest 
space of ground. Any objective sense of 
them is to the last degree painful, as any 
objective sense of the American life is, in 
its inequality and disproportion; but sub- 
jectively they are not so bad as that is, 
not so bad from the inside. At great cost 
they offer you an incomparable animal 
comfort, and they realize for the average 
American an ideal of princely magnifi- 
cence, such as he has been instructed by 
all his traditions to regard as the chief 
good of success. 

But for me the best thing about my 
hotel is that I can leave it when I will 




A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK 



•x'.ssftiwe» 




and descend to the level of the street be- 
low, where I can at once lose myself in 
woods as sweet and friendly as our groves 
at home, and wander through their aisles 
unmolested by the crowds that make them 
their resort so harmlessly that even the 
sylvan life there is unafraid. This morn- 
ing, as I sat on a bench in one of the 
most frequented walks, I could almost 
have touched the sparrows on the sprays 
about me; a squirrel foraging for nuts, 
climbed on my knees, as if to explore my 
pockets. Of course, there is a policeman 
at every turn to see that no wrong is done 
these pretty creatures, and that no sort 
of trespass is committed by any in the 
domain of all ; but I like to think that 
the security and immunity of the Park is 
proof of something besides the vigilance 
of its guardians ; that it is a hint of a 
growing sense in the Americans that what 
is common is the personal charge of ev- 
eryone in the community. 

In the absence of the private interest 
here, I get back again to the Fair City, 
and the yet fairer cities of our own Al- 
truria ; and I hope that, if you cannot 
quite excuse my self-indulgence, in placing 
myself near the Park, you will at least be 



able to account for it. You must remem- 
ber the perpetual homesickness gnawing 
at my heart, and you must realize how 
doubly strange an Altrurian finds himself 
in any country of the plutocratic world ; 
and then, I think, you will understand 
why I spend, and even waste, so much of 
my time lingering in this lovely place. 
As I turn from my page and look out upon 
it, I see the domes and spires of its foliage 
beginning to feel the autumn and taking 
on those wonderful sunset tints of the 
American year in its decline ; when I stray 
through its pleasant paths, I feel the pa- 
thos of the tender October air ; but, better 
than these sensuous delights, in everything 
of it and in it, I imagine a prophecy of the 
truer state which I believe America is des- 
tined yet to see established. It cannot be 
that the countless thousands who continu- 
ally visit it, and share equally in its beauty, 
can all come away insensibleof the meaning 
of it ; here and there someone must ask 
himself, and then ask others, why the 
whole of life should not be as generous 
and as just as this part of it; why he should 
not have a country as palpably his own as 
the Central Park is, where his ownership 
excludes the ownership of no other. 



40 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 




Some workman out of work, as lie 
trudges aimlessly through its paths, must 
wonder why the city cannot minister to 
his need as well as his pleasure, and not 
hold aloof from him till he is thrown a 
pauper on its fitful charities. If it can 
give him this magnificent garden for his 
forced leisure, why cannot it give him a 
shop where he can earn his bread ? 

I may be mistaken. His thoughts may 
never take this turn at all. 
The poor are slaves of habit, 
they bear what they have 
borne, they suffer on from 
generation to generation, 
and seem to look for nothing 
different. But this is what 
T think for the poor people 
in the Park, not alone for 
the workman recently out 
of work, but for the work- 
man so long out of it that he 
has rotted into one of the 
sodden tramps whom I meet 
now and then, looking like 
some forlorn wild beast, in 
the light of the autumnal 
leaves. That is the great 
trouble, here, my dear Cyril : 
you cannot anywhere get 
away from the misery of 
life. You would think that 
the rich for their own sakes 




would wish to see conditions bettered so 
that they might not be confronted at 
every turn by the mere loathliness of pov- 
erty. But they likewise are the slaves of 
habit ; and go the way the rich have gone 
since the beginning of time in those un- 
happy countries where there are rich and 
poor. Sometimes I think that as Shake- 
speare says of the living and the dead, 
the rich and the poor here are " but as 
pictures" to one another, without vital 
reality. It is only a luckless exile from 
Altruria like myself who sees them in 
their dreadful verity, and has a living 
sense of them ; and I, too, lose this at 
times. 

Sometimes I am glad to lose it, and this 
is why I would rather walk in the path- 
ways of the Park than in the streets of 
the city, for the contrasts here are not so 
frequent, if they are glaring still. I do 
get away from them now and then, for a 
moment or two, and give myself wholly 
up to the delight of the place. It has 
been treated with an artistic sense which 
finds its best expression here, as with us, in 
the service of the community; but I do not 
think the Americans understand this, the 
civic spirit is so weak in them yet ; and I 
doubt if the artists themselves are con- 
scious of it, they are so rarely given the 
chance to serve the community. But 
somehow, when this chance offers, it finds 
the right man to profit by it, as in the 
system of parks at Chica- 
go, the gardened spaces at 
Washington, and the Cen- 
tral Park in New York. 
Some of the decorative 
features here are bad, the 
sculpture is often foolish or 
worse, and the architecture 
is the outgrowth of a mood, 
where it is not merely 
peurile. The footways have 
been asphalted, and this is 
out of keeping with the 
rustic character of the place, 
but the whole design, and 
much of the detail in the 
treatment of the landscape, 
bears the stamp of a kindly 
and poetic genius. The 
Park is in nowise taken 
away from nature, but is 
rendered back to her, when 
all has been doneto beautify 



A BIT OF A L TRURIA JN NE W YORK. 



41 




42 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



it, an American woodland, breaking into 
meadows, here and there, and brightened 
with pools and ponds lurking among rude 
masses of rock, and gleaming between 
leafy knolls and grassy levels. It stretches 
and widens away, mile after mile, in the 
heart of the city, a memory of the land as 
it was before the havoc of the city began, 
and giving to the city-prisoned poor an 
image of what the free country still is, 
everywhere. It is all penetrated by well- 
kept drives and paths ; and it is in these 
paths that I find my pleasure. They are 
very simple woodland paths but for the 
asphalt ; though here and there an effect of 
art is studied with charming felicity ; 
once I mounted some steps graded in the 
rock, and came upon a plinth supporting 
the bust of a poet, as I might have done 
in our gardens at home. But there is 
otherwise very little effect of gardening 
except near the large fountain by the 
principal lake where there is some flare 
of flowers on the sloping lawns. I send 



reeds, so that you do not much notice the 
bronze angel atop, who seems to be hold- 
ing her skirt to one side and picking her 
steps, and to be rather afraid of falling 
into the water. There is, in fact, only one 
thoroughly good piece of sculpture in the 
Park, which I was glad to find in S3 r mpa- 
thy with the primeval suggestiveness of 
the landscape gardening : an American 
Indian hunting with his dog, as the In- 
dians must have hunted through the 
wilds here before the white men came. 

This group is alwa3 T s a great pleasure 
to me, from whatever point I come upon 
it, or catch a glimpse of it ; and I like to 
go and find the dog's prototype in the 
wolves at the menagerie here which the 
city offers free to the wonder of the crowds 
constantly thronging its grounds and 
houses. The captive brutes seem to be 
of that solidarity of good fellowship which 
unites all the frequenters of the Park; the 
tigers and the stupidly majestic lions have 
an air different to me. at least, from tigers 




you a photograph of this point, and you 
will see the excess of the viaduct, with 
its sweeping stairways, and carven free- 
stone massiveness ; — but it is charm- 
ing in a way, too, and the basin of the 
fountain is full of lotoses and papyrus 



and lions shown for profit. Among the 
milder sorts, I do not care so much for the 
wallowing hippopotamuses, and thelum- 
beringelephants, and the supercilious cam- 
els which one sees in menageries ever} T - 
where, as for those types which represent 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



43 



a period as extinct as that of the American 
pioneers : I have rather a preference for 
going and musing upon the ragged bison 
pair as they stand with their livid mouths 
open at the pale of their paddock, expect- 
ing the children's peanuts, and uncon- 
scious of their importance as survivors of 
the untold millions of their kind, which 
a quarter of a century ago blackened the 
western plains for miles and miles. There 



certain days of the week. I like to 
watch them, and so do great numbers 
of other frequenters of the Park, appar- 
ently ; and when I have walked far up 
beyond the reservoirs of city -water, which 
serve the purpose of natural lakes in the 
landscape, I like to come upon that ex- 
panse in the heart of the woods where the 
tennis-players have stretched their nets 
over a score of courts, and the art stu- 




are now only some forty or fifty left ; for 
of all the forces of the plutocratic condi- 
tions, so few are conservative that the 
American buffalo is as rare as the old- 
fashioned American mechanic, proud of 
his independence, and glorying in his 
citizenship. 

In some other enclosures are pairs of 
the beautiful native deer, which I wish 
might be enlarged to the whole extent of 
the Park, as we have them in our Regi- 
onic parks at home. But I can only im- 
agine them on the great sweeps of grass, 
which recall the savannahs and prairies, 
though there is a very satisfactory flock 
of sheep which nibbles the herbage there, 
when these spaces are not thrown open 
to the ball -players who are allowed on 



dents have set up their easels on the edges 
of the lawns, for what effect of the au- 
tumnal foliage they have the luck or the 
skill to get. It is all very sweet and 
friendly, and in keeping with the pur- 
pose of the Park, and its frank and sim- 
ple treatment throughout. 

From an Altrurian point of view I think 
this treatment is best for the greatest 
number of those who visit the place, 
and for whom the aspect of simple na- 
ture is the thing to be desired. Their 
pleasure in it, as far as the children 
are concerned, is visible and audible 
enough, but I like, as I stroll along, to 
note the quiet comfort which the elder 
people take in this domain of theirs, as 
they sit on the benches in the woodland 



44 



A BIT OF AL TRURIA IN NE W YORK. 



ways, or under the arching trees of the 
Mall, unmolested by the company of 
some of the worst of all the bad statues 
in the plutocratic world. They are 
mostly foreigners, I believe, but I find 
every now and then an American among 
them, who has released himself, or has 
been forced by want of work, to share 
their leisure for the time ; I fancy he has 
always a bad conscience, if he is taking 
the time off, for there is a continual 
pressure of duty here, to add dollar to 
dollar, and provide for the future as well 
as the present need. The foreigner, who 
has been bred up without the Ameri- 
can's hope of advancement, has not his 
anxiety, and is a happier man, so far as 
that goes ; but the Park imparts some- 
thing of its peace to every one, even to 
some of the people who drive, and form a 
spectacle for those who walk. 

For me they all unite to form a spec- 
tacle I never cease to marvel at, with a 
perpetual hunger of conjecture as to what 
they really think of one another. Ap- 
parently, they are all, whether they walk 
or whether they drive, willing collectively, 
if not individually, to go on forever in the 
economy which perpetuates their inequal- 
ity, and makes a mock of the polity which 



assures them their liberty. I cannot get 
used to the difference which money creates 
among men here, and whenever I take 
my eyes from it the thing ceases to be 
credible ; yet this difference is what the 
vast majority of Americans have agreed 
to accept forever as right and justice, if 
I were to go and sit beside some poor 
man in the Park, and ask him why a man 
no better than he was driving before him 
in a luxurious carriage, he would say that 
the other man had the money to do it ; 
and he would really think he had given 
me a reason ; the man in the carriage 
himself could not regard the answer as 
more full and final than the man on 
the bench. They have both been reared 
in the belief that it is a sufficient answer, 
and they would both regard me with the 
same misgiving, if I ventured to say that 
it was not a reason ; for if their positions 
were to be at once reversed, they would 
both acquiesce in the moral outlawry of 
their inequality. The man on foot would 
think it had simply come his turn to drive 
in a carriage and the man whom he ousted 
would think it was rather hard luck, but 
he would realize that it was what, at the 
bottom of his heart, he had always ex- 
pected. 




A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



45 




I have sometimes ventured to address a 
man walking - or sitting by my side, if he 
appeared more than commonly intelligent, 
in the hope of getting at some personal 
philosophy, instead of this conventional 
acceptance of the situation, but I have 
only had short or suspicious answers, or 
a bewildered stare for my pains. Only 
once have I happened to find any one 
who questioned the situation from a 
standpoint outside of it, and that was a 
shabbily dressed man whom I overheard 
talking to a poor woman in one of those 
pleasant arbors which crown certain 
points of rising ground in the Park. She 
had a paper bundle on the seat beside her, 
and she looked like some workingwoman 
out of place, with that hapless, wistful air, 
which such people often have. Her poor 
little hands, which lay in her lap, were 
stiffened and hardened with work, but 
they were clean, except for the black of 
the nails, and she was very decently clad 
in garments beginning to fray into rags ; 
she had a good, kind, faithful face, and 
she listened without rancor to the man as 
he unfolded the truth to her concerning the 



conditions in which they lived, if it may 
be called living. It was the wisdom of 
the poor, hopeless, joyless, as it now and 
then makes itself heard in the process of 
the years and ages in the plutocratic 
world, and then sinks again into silence. 
He showed her how she had no permanent 
place in the economy, not because she had 
momentarily lost work, but because in 
the nature of things as the Americans 
have them, it could only be a question of 
time when she must be thrown out of any 
place she found. He blamed no one ; he 
onty blamed the conditions, and with far 
more leniency than you or I should. I do 
not know whether his wisdom made the 
friendless women happier, but I could not 
gainsay it, when he saw me listening, 
and asked me, "Isn't that the truth?" 
I left him talking sadly on, and I never 
saw him again. He looked very thread- 
bare, but he too was cleanly and decent 
in his dress, and not at all of that type 
of agitators of whom the Americans have 
made an effigy like nothing I have ever 
found here, as if merely for the childish 
pleasure of reviling it. 



46 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 




The whole incident was infinitely pa- 
thetic to me ; and yet I warn you, my 
dear Cyril, that you must not romance 
the poor, here, or imagine that they are 
morally better than the rich ; you must 
not fancy that a poor man, when he ceases 
to be a poor man, would be kinder for 
having been poor. He would perhaps 
oftener, and certainly more logically, be 
unkinder, for there would be mixed with 
his vanity of possession a quality of cruel 
fear, an apprehension of loss, which the 
man who had always been rich would not 
feel. The self-made man in America, 
when he has made himself of money, 
seems to have been deformed by his orig- 
inal destitution, and I think that if I were 
in need I would rather take my chance of 
pity from the man who had never been 
poor. Of course, this is generalization, 
and there are instances to the contrary, 
which at once occur to me. But what is 
absolutely true, is that plutocratic pros- 
perity, the selfish joy of having, at the 
necessary cost of those who cannot have, 
is blighted by the feeling of insecurity, 
which every man here has in his secret 
soul, and which the man who has known 
want must have in greater measure than 
the man who has never known want. 

There is, indeed, no security for wealth, 
which the Americans think the chief good 



of life, in the system that warrants it. 
When a man has gathered his millions, 
he cannot be reduced to want, probably ; 
but while he is amassing them, while he 
is in the midst of the fight, or the game, 
as most men are here, there are ninety-five 
chances out of a hundred that he will be 
beaten. Perhaps it is best so, and I 
should be glad it was so, if I could be sure 
that the common danger bred a common 
kindness between the rich and the poor 
here, but it seems not to do so. As far 
as I can see, the rule of chance, which 
they all live under, does nothing more 
than reduce them to a community of 
anxieties. 

To the eye of the stranger they have 
the monotony of the sea, where some 
tenth wave runs a little higher than the 
rest, but sinks at last, or breaks upon 
the rocks or sands, as inevitably as the 
other nine. Their inequality is without 
picturesqueness and without distinction. 
The people in the carriages are better 
dressed than those on foot, especially the 
women ; but otherwise they do not greatly 
differ from the most of these. The spec- 
tacle of the driving in the Park has none 
of that dignity which, our emissaries tell 
us, characterizes such spectacles in Euro- 
pean capitals. This may be because many 
people of the finest social quality are still 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



47 




: 



111 



48 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



in the country, or it may be because the 
differences growing out of mone} 7 can 
never have the effect of those growing out 
of birth ; that a plutocracy can never 
have the last wicked grace of an aris- 
tocracy. It would be impossible, for in- 
stance, to weave any romance about the 
figures you see in the carriages here ; 
they do not even suggest the poetry of 
ages of prescriptive wrong ; they are of 
today, and there is no guessing whether 
they will be of tomorrow or not. 

In Europe, this sort of tragicomedy is 
at least well played ; but in America, you 
always have the feeling that the per- 
formance is that of second-rate amateurs, 
who, if they would really live out the life 
implied by America, would be the supe- 
riors of the whole world. I have, my 
dear Cyril, not a very keen sense of hu- 
mor, as you know ; but even I am some- 
times moved to laughter by some of the 
things I see among them. Or, you per- 
haps think that I ought to be awed by the 
sight of a little, lavishty dressed lad}', 
lolling in the corner of a ponderous lan- 
dau, with the effect of holding fast lest 
she should be shaken out of it, while two 
powerful horses, in jingling, silver-plated 
harness, with the due equipment of coach- 



man and footman, seated on their bright- 
buttoned overcoats on the box together, 
get her majestically over the ground at a 
slow trot. This is what I sometimes see, 
with not so much reverence as I feel for 
the simple mother pushing her baby-car- 
riage on the asphalt beside me and doubt- 
less envying the wonderful creature in 
the landau. Sometimes it is a fat old 
man in the landau ; or a husband and 
wife, not speaking ; or a pair of grim old 
ladies, who look as if the}- had lived so 
long aloof from their unluckier sisters 
that they could not be too severe with the 
mere sight of them. Generally speaking, 
the people in the carriages do not seem 
any happier for being there, though I 
have sometimes seen a jolly party of 
strangers in a public carriage, drawn by 
those broken-kneed horses which seem 
peculiarly devoted to this service. 

The best place to see the driving is at a 
point where the different driveways con- 
verge, not far from the Egyptian obelisk 
which the Khedive gave the Americans 
some years ago, and which they have set 
up here in one of the finest eminences of 
the Park. He had of course no moral 
right to rob his miserable land of any one 
of its characteristic monuments, but I do 




A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



49 




not knowthat it is not as well in New York 
as in Alexandria. If its heart of aged 
stone could feel the terrible continuity 
of conditions in the world outside of 
Altruria, it must be aware of the essential 
unity of the civilizations beside the Nile 
and beside the Hudson ; and if Cleopatra's 
needle had really an eye to see, it must 
perceive that there is nothing truly civic 
in either. As the great tide of dissatis- 
fied and weary wealth rolls by its base 
here, in the fantastic variety of its equi- 
pages, does it discern so much difference 
between their occupants and the occupants 
of the chariots that swept beneath it in 
the capital of the Ptolemies two thousand 
years ago ? I can imagine it at times 
winking such an eye and cocking in de- 
rision the gilded cap with which the New 
Yorkers have lately crowned it. They pass 
it in all kinds of vehicles, and there are all 
kinds of people in them, though there are 
sometimes no people at all, as when the 
servants have been sent out to exercise 
the horses, for nobody's good or pleasure, 
and in the spirit of that atrocious waste 
which runs through the whole plutocratic 
life. I have now and then seen a gentle- 
man driving a four-in-hand, with every- 



thing to minister to his vanity in the 
exact imitation of a nobleman driving a 
four-in-hand over English roads, and with 
no one to be drawn by his crop-tailed 
bays or blacks, except himself and the 
solemn-looking groom on his perch ; I 
have wondered how much more nearly 
equal they were in their aspirations and 
instincts than either of them imagined. 
A gentleman driving a pair, abreast or 
tandem, with a groom on the rumble, for 
no purpose except to express his quality, 
is a common sight enough ; and some- 
times you see a lady illustrating her con- 
sequence in like manner. A lady driving, 
while a gentleman occupies the seat be- 
hind her, is a sight which always affects 
me like the sight of a man taking a 
woman's arm, in walking, as the man of 
an underbred sort is apt to do here. 

Horsey-looking women, who are, to 
ladies at least, what horsey-looking men 
are to gentlemen, drive together ; often 
they are really ladies, and sometimes 
they are nice young girls, out for an in- 
nocent dash and chat. They are all very 
much and very unimpressively dressed, 
whether they sit in state behind the regu- 
lation coachman and footman, or handle the 



50 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



reins themselves. Now and then you see a 
lady with a dog on the seat beside her, for 
an airing, but not often a child ; once or 
twice I have seen one with a large spaniel 
seated comfortably in front of her, and I 
have asked myself what would happen if, 
instead of the dog, she had taken into her 
carriage some pale woman or weary old 
man, such as I sometimes see gazing pa- 
tiently after her. The thing would be pos- 
sible in Altruria; but I assure you, my 
dear Cyril, it would be altogether impos- 
sible in America. I should be the first to 
feel the want of keeping in it ; for, how- 
ever recent wealth may be here, it has 
equipped itself with all the apparatus of 
long inherited riches, which it is as 
strongly bound to maintain intact as if 
it were really old and hereditary — per- 
haps more strongly. I must say that, 
mostly, its owners look very tired of it, 
or of something, in public, and that the 
American plutocrats, if they have not the 



distinction of an aristocracy, have at least 
the ennui. 

But these stylish turnouts form only a 
part of the spectacle in the Park drive- 
ways, though they form, perhaps, the 
larger part. Bicyclers weave their dan- 
gerous and devious way everywhere 
through the roads, and seem to be forbid- 
den the bridle-paths, where from point to 
point you catch a glimpse of the riders. 
There are boys and girls in village carts, 
the happiest of all the people you see ; 
and there are cheap-looking buggies, like 
those you meet in the country here, with 
each a young man and young girl in them, 
as if they had come in from some remote 
suburb ; turnouts shabbier yet, with poor 
old horses, poke about with some elderly 
pair, like a farmer and his wife. There are 
family carryalls, with friendly looking fam- 
ilies, old and young, getting the good of the 
Park together in a long, leisurely jog; and 
open buggies with yellow wheels and raf- 




A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK 



51 




fish men in them behind their wide-spread 
trotters ; or with some sharp-faced young 
fellow getting all the speed out of a lively 
span that the mounted policemen, sta- 
tioned at intervals along the driveways, 
will allow. The finer vehicles are of all 
types, patterned like every- 
thing else that is fine in 
America, upon something 
fine in Europe; but just now 
a very high-backed phaeton 
appears to be most in favor; 
and in fact I get a great deal 
of pleasure out of these my- 
self, as I do not have to sit 
stiffly up in them. They 
make me think somehow of 
those eighteenth-century En- 
glish novels, which you and 
I used to delight in so much, 
and which filled us with a 
romantic curiosity concerning 
the times when young ladies 
like Evelina drove out in 
phaetons, and were the pas- 
sionate pursuit of Lord Or- 
villes and Sir Clement Wil- 
loughbys. 

You will be curious to know 
how far the Americans pub- 



licly carry their travesty of the European 
aristocratic life; and here I am somewhat 
at a loss, for I only know that life from the 
relations of our emissaries, and from the 
glimpses I had of it in my brief sojourn in 
England on my way here. But I should 




52 



A BIT OF ALTRURIA IN NEW YORK. 



%j^ ::i &uJy 



e 




Say, from what I have seen of the driving in 
the Park, where I suppose I have not yet 
seen the parody at its height, it does not err 
on the side of excess. The equipages, when 
they are fine, are rather simple ; and the 
liveries are such as express a proprietary 
grandeur in coat buttons, silver or gilt, 
and in a darker or lighter drab of the 
cloth the servants wear ; they are often in 
brown or dark green. Now and then you 
see the tightly cased legs and top boots 
and cockaded hat of a groom, but this is 
oftenest on a four-in-hand coach, or the 
rumble of a tandem cart ; the soul of 
the free-born republican is rarely bowed 
before it on the box of a family carriage. 
I have seen nothing like an attempt at 
family colors in the trappings of the coach- 
man and horses. 

Yes, I should say that the imitation was 
quite within the bounds of good taste. 
The bad taste is in the wish to imitate 
Europe at all ; but with the abundance of 
money, the imitation is simply inevit- 
able. As I have told you before, and I 
cannot insist too much upon the fact, 
there is no American life for wealth ; there 
is no native formula for the expression of 
social superiority ; because America, like 
Altruria, means equality if it means any- 



thing, in the last analysis. But without 
economic equality there can be no social 
equality, and, finally, there can be no polit- 
ical equality ; for money corrupts the fran- 
chise, the legislature and the judiciary 
here, just as it used to do with us in the 
old days before the Evolution. Of all the 
American fatuities, none seems to me more 
deplorable than the pretension that with 
their conditions it can ever be otherwise, 
or that simple manhood can assert itself 
successfully in the face of such power as 
money wields over the very soul of man. 
At best, the common man can only break 
from time to time-, into insolent defiance, 
pending his chance to make himself an 
uncommon man with money. In all this 
show here on the Park driveways, you get 
no effect so vivid as the effect of sterility 
in that liberty without equality which 
seems to satisfy the Americans. A man 
may come into the Park with any sort of 
vehicle, so that it is not for the carriage 
of merchandise, and he is free to spoil 
what might be a fine effect with the in- 
trusion of whatever squalor of turnout 
he will. He has as much right there as 
any one, but the right to be shabby in the 
presence of people who are fine is not one 
that we should envv him. I do not think 



53 



that he can be comfortable in it, for the 
superiority around him puts him to shame, 
as it puts the poor man to shame here at 
every turn in life, though some Americans, 
with an impudence that is pitiable, will 
tell you that it does not put him to shame ; 
that he feels himself as good as any one. 
They are always talking about human na- 
ture and what it is, and what it is not ; 
but they try in their blind worship of in- 
equality, to refuse the first and simplest 
knowledge of human nature, which testi- 
fies of itself in every throb of their own 
hearts, as they try even to refuse a knowl- 
edge of the Divine nature, when they at- 
tribute to the Father of all a design in the 
injustice they have themselves created. 
To me the lesson of Central Park is that 
where it is used in the spirit of fraternity 
and equality, the pleasure in it is pure 
and fine, and that its frequenters have for 
the moment a hint of the beauty which 
might be perpetually in their lives; but 



where it is invaded by the plutocratic 
motives of the strife that raves all round 
it in the city outside, its joys are fouled 
with contempt and envy, the worst pas- 
sions that tear the human heart. Ninety- 
nine Americans out of a hundred, have 
never seen a man in livery; they have 
never dreamt of such a display as this in 
the Park; the sight of it would be as 
strange to them as it would be to all the 
Altrurians. Yet with their conditions, I 
fear that at sight of it, ninety-nine Amer- 
icans out of every hundred, would lust 
for their turn of the wheel, their throw of 
the dice, so that they might succeed to a 
place in it, and flaunt their luxury in the 
face of poverty, and abash humility with 
their pride. They would not feel, as we 
should, the essential immorality of its de- 
formity; they would not perceive that its 
ludicrous disproportion was the outward 
expression of an inward ugliness. 

A. Homos. 



,i-;f 



SfSllffc- 







54 





-;.^*-V'.:>,% >■■;■:" 








^'^Sft.!;*;^;:.^,. 



THE ENTRANCE TO THE PARK FROM FIFTH AVENUE. 

LETTERS OF AN AI/TRURIAN TRAVELLER. 

By W. D. Howells. 
ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OP A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



IV. 



New York, October 30, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

If you will look at a plan of New York, 
you will see that Central Park is really in 
the center of the place, if a thing which 
has length only, or is so nearly without 
breadth or thickness, can be said to have 
a center. South of the Park, the whole 
island is dense with life and business — it 
is pretty solidly built up on either side; but 
to the northward the blocks of houses are 
no longer of a compact succession ; they 
Struggle up, at irregular intervals, from 
open fields, and sink again, on the streets 



pushed beyond them into the simple 
country, where even a suburban charac- 
ter is lost. It can only be a few years, 
at most, before all the empty spaces will 
be occupied, and the town, such as it is, 
and such as it seems to have been ever 
since the colonial period, will have an- 
chored itself fast in the rock that under- 
lies the larger half of it, and imparted its 
peculiar effect to every street — an effect 
of arrogant untidiness, of superficial and 
formal gentility, of immediate neglect and 
overuse. 

You will see more of the neglect and 
overuse in the avenues which penetrate 
the city's mass from north to south, and 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



55 




THE FRANTIC ACTIVITIES OF BUSINESS." 



more of the superficial and formal gen- 
tility in the streets that cross these avenues 
from east to west ; but the arrogant un- 
tidiness you will find nearly everywhere, 
except in some of the newest quarters 
westward from the Park, and still further 
uptown. These are really very clean ; 
but they have a bare look, as if they were 
not yet inhabited, and, in fact, many of 
the nouses are still empt} 7 . Lower down, 
the streets are often as shabby and as 
squalid as the avenues that run parallel 
with the river sides ; and at least two of 
the avenues are as decent as the decentest 
cross-street. But all are more or less un- 
kempt ; the sweepings lie in little heaps 
in the gutters for days ; and in a city with- 
out alleys barrels of ashes and kitchen 
offal line the curbstones and offer their 
offense to the nose and eye everywhere. 

Of late, a good many streets and several 
avenues have been asphalted, and the din 
of wheels on the rough , pavement no 
longer torments the ear so cruelly ; but 
there is still the sharp clatter of the 
horses' iron shoes everywhere ; and their 
pulverized manure, which forms so great 
a part of the city's dust, and is con- 
stantly taken into people's stomachs and 
lungs, seems to blow more freely about on 



the asphalt than on the old-fashioned 
pavements ; scraps of paper, straw, fruit- 
peel, and all manner of minor waste and 
rubbish, litter both. Every city of the 
plutocratic world must be an outrage to 
Altrurian senses, as you already under- 
stand, but I doubt if I could ever make 
you understand the abominable condition 
of the New York streets during the snowy 
months of the past winter, when for weeks 
no attempt was made to remove their 
accumulated filth. At their best, they 
would be intolerable to us ; at their worst, 
they are inconceivable and wholly inde- 
scribable. The senses witness their con- 
dition, but the mind refuses to receive the 
evidence of the senses ; and nothing can 
be more pathetic, more comic, than the 
resolution of the New Yorkers in ignor- 
ing it. 

But if I were once to go into detail, in 
my effort to make New York intelligible 
to you, there would be no end to it, and I 
think I had better get back to my topo- 
graphical generalities. I have given you 
some notion of my position at the gate of 
Central Park, and you must imagine all 
my studies of the city beginning and end- 
ing here. I love to linger near it, because 
it affords a hope for New York that I feel 



56 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



so distinctly nowhere else in New York, 
though certain traits of the city's essen- 
tially transitional and experimental nature 
sometimes also suggest that it may be the 
first city of America to Altrurianize. The 
upper classes are at least used to the polit- 
ical sway of the lower classes, and when 
they realize that they never can have any 
hope but in bettering the lot of their rul- 
ers, the end will not be far off, for it will 
then be seen that this can be lastingly 
done only through a change of the eco- 
nomic conditions. 

In the meantime, the Park, which is the 
physical heart of New York, is Altrurian 
already. In the contrasts of rich and poor, 
which you can no more escape there than 
you can in the city streets, you are, indeed, 
afflicted with that sense of absurdity, of 
impossibility, so comforting to the Amer- 
ican when he strives to imagine Altrurian 
conditions, and gets no farther than to 
imagine the creatures of a plutocratic 
civilization in them. He imagines that, 
in an Altrurian state, people must have 
the same motives, interests, anxieties, 
which he has always known them to 



have, and which they carry with them 
into Central Park, and only lay aside for 
a moment in response to the higher ap- 
peal which its equal opportunities make. 
But then, at moments these care-worn, 
greed-worn souls do put off the burden of 
their inequality, their superiority or their 
inferiority, and meet on the same broad 
level of humanity ; and I wish, my dear 
Cyril, that you would always keep its one 
great oasis in your thoughts, as you follow 
me in my wanderings through this vast 
commercial desert. It is the token, if not 
the pledge, of happier things, and, while 
I remain here, it will be always to me a 
precious image of home. 

When I leave it I usually take one of 
the avenues southward, and then turn 
eastward or westward on one of the cross- 
streets whose perspective appeals to my 
curiosity, and stroll through it to one of the 
rivers. The avenues, as you will see, are 
fifteen or sixteen in number, and they 
stretch, some farther than others, up and 
down the island, but most of them end in 
the old town, where its irregularity be- 
gins, at the south, and several are inter- 




THEY ALWAYS SUGGEST MONEY, MORE THAN TASTE." 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



57 



rupted by the different parks at the north. 
Together with the streets that intersect 
them between the old town and Central 
Park, they form one of the most character- 
istic parts of modern New York. Like the 
streets, they are numbered, as you know, 
rather than named, from a want of imag- 
ination, or from a preference of mere con- 
venience to the poetry and associations 
that cluster about a name, and can never 
cling to a number, or from a business im- 
patience to be quickly done with the mat- 
ter. This must rather defeat itself, how- 
ever, when a hurried man undertakes to 
tell you that he lives at three hundred and 




II 



sa 



A TYPICAL UP-TOWN CROSS-STREET 

seventy-five on One Hundred and Fifty- 
seventh street. Towards the rivers the 
avenues grow shabbier and shabbier, 
though this statement must be qualified, 
like all general statements. Seventh ave- 
nue, on the west, is pleasanter than Sixth 
avenue, and Second avenue, on the east, 
is more agreeable than Third avenue. In 
fact, the other afternoon, as I strayed over 
to the East river, I found several blocks 
of Avenue A, which runs nearest it, very 



quiet, built up with comfortable dwell- 
ings, and even clean, as cleanliness is 
understood in New York. 

But it is Fifth avenue which divides the 
city lengthwise nearest the middle, and it 
is this avenue which affords the norm of 
style and comfort to the other avenues on 
either hand, and to all the streets that in- 
tersect it. Madison avenue is its rival, 
and has suffered less from the invasion of 
shops and hotels, but a long stretch of 
Fifth avenue is still the most aristocratic 
quarter of the city, and is upon the whole 
its finest thoroughfare. I need not say 
that we should not, in Altruria, think any 
^ New York street fine; 
but, generally, Fifth 
avenue and the cross- 
streets in its better part 
have a certain regular- 
ity in their mansions of 
brownstone, which re- 
calls to one, if it does 
not actually give again, 
the pleasure we get from 
the symmetry at home. 
They are at least not so 
chaotic as they might 
be, and though they 
always suggest money 
more than taste, I can- 
not at certain moments, 
and under the favor of 
an evening sky, deny 
them a sort of unlovely 
and forbidding beauty. 
There are not many 
of these cross - streets 
which have remained 
intact from the business 
of the other avenues. 
They have always a 
drinking saloon, or a 
provision store, or an 
apothecary's shop, at 
the corners where they 
modistes find lodgment 
almost before the residents are 
aware. Beyond Sixth avenue, or Seventh 
at furthest, on the west, and Fourth ave- 
nue or Lexington, on the east, they lose 
their genteel character ; their dwellings 
degenerate into apartment- houses, and 
then into tenement-houses of lower and 
lower grade till the rude traffic and the 
offensive industries of the river shores 
are reached. 



intersect 
in them 



the 



58 ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



But once more I must hedge, for some- 
times a street is respectable almost to the 
water on one side or the other ; and there 
are whole neighborhoods of pleasant dwell- 
ings far down town, which seem to have 
been forgotten by the enterprise of busi- 
ness, or neglected by its caprice, and to 
have escaped for a time at least the conta- 
gion of poverty. Business and poverty are 
everywhere slowly or swiftly eating their 
way into the haunts of respectability, and 
destroying its pleasant homes. They al- 
ready have the whole of the old town to 
themselves. In large spaces of it no one 
dwells but the janitors with their fam- 
ilies, who keep the sky- 
scraping edifices where 
business frets the time 
away ; and by night, in 
the streets where myri- 
ads throng by day, no 
one walks but the out- 
cast and the watch. 

Many of these busi- 
ness streets are the 
handsomest in the city, 
with a good sky line, 
and an architectural 
ideal too good for the 
sordid uses of commerce. 
This is often realized in 
antipathetic iron, but 
often there is good hon- 
est work in stone, and 
an effect better than the 
best of Fifth avenue. 
But this is stupid and 
wasteful, as everything 
necessarily is in the plu- 
tocratic conditions. It 
is for the pleasure of no 
one's taste or sense ; the 
business men who traffic 
in these edifices have no 
time for their beauty, or 
no perception of it; the 
porters and truckmen 
and expressmen, who toil and moil in these 
thoroughfares, have no use for the gran- 
deur that catches the eye of a chance pas- 
ser from Altruria. 

Other spaces are abandoned to the pov- 
erty which festers in the squalid houses 
and swarms day and night in the squalid 
streets ; but business presses closer and 
harder upon these refuges of its foster- 
child, not to say its offspring, and it is only 



a question of time before it shall wholly 
possess them. It is only a question of 
time before all the comfortable quarters 
of the city, northward from the old town 
to the Park, shall be invaded, and the 
people driven to the streets building up 
on the west and east of it for a little lon- 
ger sojourn. Where their last stay shall 
be, heaven knows ; perhaps they will be 
forced into the country ; or before that 
happens they may be rescued from them- 
selves by the advance of Altrurianization. 
In this sort of invasion, however, it is 
poverty that seems mostly to come first, 
and it is business that follows and holds 




ARCHITECTURE IN THE WHOLESALE DISTRICT. 

the conquest, though this is far from be- 
ing always the case. Whether it is so 
or not, however, poverty is certain at 
some time to impart its taint ; for it is 
perpetual here, from generation to gen- 
eration, like death itself. In the pluto- 
cratic conditions, poverty is incurable ; 
the very hope of cure is laughed to scorn 
by those who cling the closest to these 
conditions ; it may be better at one time, 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRA TIC CITY. 59 



and worse at another ; but it must always 
be, somehow, till time shall be no more. 
It is from everlasting to everlasting, they 
say, with an unconscious blasphemy of 
the ever-enduring Good, and, unless the 
conditions change, I must confess that 
they have reason for their faith in evil. 
When I come home from these walks 
of mine, heart-sick, as I usually do, I 
have a vision of the wretched quarters 
through which I have passed, as blotches 
of disease upon the civic body, as loath- 
some sores, destined to eat deeper and 




ALL THIS MAKES YOU HASTEN YOUR PACE- 



deeper into it ; and I am haunted by this 
sense of them, until I plunge deep into 
the Park, and wash my consciousness 
clean of it all for a while. But when I am 
actually in these leprous spots, I become 
hardened, for the moment, to the deeply 
underlying fact of human discomfort. I 
feel their picturesqueness, with a devilish 
indifference to that ruin, or that defect, 
which must so largely constitute the 
charm of the picturesque. A street of 



tenement-houses is always more pict- 
uresque than a street of brownstone resi- 
dences, which the same thoroughfare 
usually is before it slopes to either river. 
The fronts of the edifices are decorated 
with the iron balconies and ladders of the 
fire-escapes, and have in the perspective 
a false air of gayety, which is travestied in 
their rear by the lines thickly woven from 
the windows to the tall poles set between 
the backs of the houses, and fluttering 
with drying clothes as with banners. 
The sidewalks swarm with children, 
and the air rings with 
their clamor, as they fly 
back and forth at play ; 
on the thresholds, the 
mothers sit nursing their 
babes, and the old women 
gossip together ; young 
girls lean from the case- 
ments, alow and aloft, or 
flirt from the doorways 
with the hucksters who 
leave their carts in the 
street, while they come 
forward with some bar- 
gain in fruit or vegeta- 
bles, and then resume 
their leisurely progress 
and their jarring cries. 
The place has all the at- 
traction of close neighbor- 
hood, which the poor love, 
and which affords them 
for nothing the spectacle 
of the human drama, with 
themselves for actors. In 
a picture it would be most 
pleasingly effective, for 
then you could be in it, 
and yet have the distance 
on it which it needs. But 
to be in it, and not have 
the distance, is to inhale 
the vStenches of the neglect- 
ed street, and to catch that yet fouler and 
dread fuller poverty-smell which breathes 
from the open doorways. It is to see the 
children quarrelling in their games, and 
beating each other in the face, and rolling 
each other in the gutter, like the little 
savage outlaws they are. It is to see the 
work-worn look of the mothers, the 
squalor of the babes, the haggish ugli- 
ness of the old women, the slovenly 
frowziness of the young girls. All this 



60 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 




&rm 



rtw 






£^f 




able self-assertion of business, which is 
first in the people's thoughts, and must 
necessarily be given the first place in 
their cities. Huge factories and foundries, 
lumber yards, breweries, slaughter-houses 
and warehouses, abruptly interspersed 
with stables and hovels, and drinking sa- 
loons, disfigure the shore, and in the near- 
est avenue, the freight trains come and 
go on lines of railroads, in all this middle 
portion of New York. South of it, in the 
business section, the poverty section, the 
river region is a mere chaos of industrial 
and commercial strife and pauper wretch- 
edness. North of it there are gardened 
driveways following the shore ; and even 
at many points between, when you finally 
reach the river, there is a kind of peace, 
or at least a truce to the frantic activities 
of business. To be sure, the heavy trucks 
grind up and down the long piers, but on 
either side the docks are full of leisurely 
canal-boats, and if you could come with 
me in the late afternoon, you would see 
the smoke curling upward from their cabin 



SKY-SCRAPING EDIFICES WHERE BUSINESS 
FRETS THE TIME AWAY." 

makes 3 7 ou hasten your pace down 
to the river, where the tall build- 
ings break and dwindle into stables 
and shanties of wood, and finally 
end in the piers, commanding the 
whole stretch of the mighty water- 
way with its shipping, and the 
wooded heights of its western 
bank. 

I am supposing you to have 
walked down a street of tenement- 
houses to the North river, as the 
New Yorkers call the Hudson ; and 
I wish I could give you some notion 
of the beauty and majesty of the 
stream. You must turn to the 
photographs I send you for that 
beauty and majesty, and for some 
sense of the mean and ignoble ef- 
fect of the city's invasion of the 
hither shore. The ugliness is, in- 
deed, only worse in degree, but not 
in kind, than that of all city water- 
fronts in plutocratic countries. In- 
stead of pleasant homes, with green 
lawns and orchards sloping to the 
brink, as we have them in Altru- 
ria, they have here the inexor- 




FLUTTERING WITH DRYING CLOTHES AS WITH BANNERS.' 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



61 



m 




"THE MIGHTY WATER-WAY WITH ITS SHIPPING." 



roofs, as from the chimneys of so many 
rustic cottages, and smell the evening 
meal cooking within, while the canal- 
wives lounged at the gangway hatches for 
a breath of the sunset air, and the boatmen 
smoked on the gunwales or indolently plied 
the long sweeps of their pumps. All the 
hurry and turmoil of the chVy is lost among 
these people, whose clumsy craft recall 
the grassy inland levels remote from the 
metropolis, and the slow movement of life 
in the quiet country wa}'S. Some of the 
mothers from the tenement-houses stroll 
down on the piers with their babies in 
their arms, and watch their men-kind, of 
all ages, fishing along the sides of the dock, 
or casting their lines far out into the cur- 
rent at the end. They do not seem to 
catch many fish, and never large ones, but 
they silently enjoy the sport, which they 
probably find leisure for in the general 
want of work in these hard times ; if 
they swear a little at their luck, now and 
then, it is, perhaps, no more than their 
luck deserves. Some do not even fish, 
but sit with their legs dangling over the 
water, and watch the swift tugs, or the 



lagging sloops that pass, with now and 
then a larger sail, or a towering passenger 
steamboat. Far down the stream they can 
see the forests of masts, fringing either 
shore, and following the point of the isl- 
and round and up into the great channel 
called the East river. These ships seemed 
as multitudinous as the houses that spread 
everywhere from them over the shore fur- 
ther than the eye can reach. They bring 
the commerce of the world to this mighty 
city, which, with all its riches, is the pa- 
rent of such misery, and with all its traf- 
fic abounds in idle men who cannot find 
work. The ships look happy and free, in 
the stream, but they are of the plutocratic 
world, too, as well the houses ; and let 
them spread their wings ever so widely, 
they still bear with them the slavery of 
the poor, as we know too well from the 
sorrowful tales of the castaways on our 
coast. 

You must lose the thought of what 
is below T the surface everywhere and in 
everything in America, if you would pos- 
sess your soul from the pain perpetually 
threatening it ; and I am afraid, my dear 



62 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



Cyril, that if you could be suddenly trans- 
ported to my side, and behold what un- 
derlies all life here, with your fresh Altru- 
rian eyes, you would not be more shocked 
at the sight than at me, who, knowing it 
all, can ever have a moment's peace in 
my knowledge. But I do have many mo- 
ments' peace, through the mere exhaus- 
tion of consciousness, and I must own 
with whatever shame you would have me 
feel, that sometimes I have moments of 
pleasure. The other evening I walked 
over to the East river through one of 
those tenement streets, and I reached the 
waterside just as the soft night was be- 
ginning to fall in all its autumnal beauty. 
The afterglow died from the river, while 
I hung upon a parapet over a gulf ravened 
out of the bank for a street, and expe- 
rienced that artistic delight which culti- 
vated people are often proud of feeling 
here, in the aspect of the long prison 
island which breaks the expanse of the 
channel. I knew the buildings on it were 
prisons, and that the men and women in 
them, bad before, could only come out of 
them worse than before, and doomed to 
a life of outlawry and of crime. I was 
aware that they were each an image of 



that loveless and hopeless perdition which 
the cruelty of men imagines God has pre- 
pared for the souls of the damned, but I 
could not see the barred windows of those 
hells in the waning light. I could only 
see the trees along their walks ; their dim 
lawns and gardens, and the castellated 
forms of the prisons ; and the esthetic 
sense, which in these unhappy lands is 
careful to keep itself pure from pity, was 
tickled with an agreeable impression of 
something old and fair. The dusk thick- 
ened, and the vast steamboats which ply 
between the city and the New England 
ports on Ivong Island Sound, and daily 
convey whole populations of passengers 
between New York and Boston, began 
to sweep by silently, swiftly, luminous 
masses on the black water. Their lights 
aloft at bow and stern, floated with them 
like lambent planets ; the lights of lesser 
craft dipped by, and came and went in 
the distance ; the lamps of the nearer and 
farther shores twinkled into sight, and a 
peace that ignored all the sorrow of it, 
fell upon the scene. 

It was such peace as can alone come to 
you in a life like this. If you would have 
any rest you must ignore a thousand 




CANAL ROATS ON THF. HUDSON. 



ASPECTS AND IMPRESSIONS OE A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



63 




"THE WOODED HEIGHTS OF ITS WESTERN BANK.' 

facts, which, if 3 r ou recognize them, turn 
and rend you, and instil their poison into 
your lacerated soul. In your pleasures 
you must forget the deprivation which 
your indulgence implies ; if you feast, 
you must shut out the thought of them 
that famish ; when you lie down in your 
bed, you cannot sleep if you remember 
the houseless who have nowhere to lay 
their heads. You are everywhere belea- 
guered by the armies of want and woe, 
and in the still watches of the night you 
can hear their invisible sentinels calling 
to one another, "All is ill ! All is ill ! " 
and hushing their hosts to the apathy of 
despair. 

Yes, if you would have any comfort of 
your life here, you must have it in dis- 
regard of your fellowmen, your kindred, 
your brothers, made like yourself and fash- 



ioned to the same enjoyments 
and sufferings, whose hard lot 
forbids them comfort. This is 
a fact, however, which the civ- 
ilization of all plutocratic 
countries is resolute to deny, 
and the fortunate children of 
that civilization try to live in 
a fiction of the demerit of the 
unfortunate : they feign that 
these are more indolent or vic- 
ious than themselves, and so 
are, somehow, condemned by 
the judgments of God to 
their abasement and destitution. But at 
the bottom of their hearts they know 
that this pretense is false, and that it is 
a mere chance they are not themselves 
of the unfortunate. They must shut 
their minds to this knowledge as they 
must shut them to the thought of all the 
misery which their prosperity is based on, 
or, as I say, they can have no peace. 

You can reason to the effect upon char- 
acter among them, among the best of 
them. It is a consequence which you 
would find unspeakably shocking, yet 
which, if you personally knew their con- 
ditions, you would be lenient to, for you 
would perceive that, while the conditions 
endure, there is no help, no hope for them. 
The wonder is that, in such circumstances 
as theirs, they ever permit their sym- 
pathies the range that these sometimes 




" THE CASTELLATED FORMS OF THE PRISONS. 



64 



take, only to return upon them in an an- 
guish of impotency. None but the short- 
sighted and thoughtless in a plutocracy 
can lastingly satisfy themselves even with 
a constant giving, for the thoughtful know 
that charity corrupts and debases, and 
that finally it is no remedy. So these 
take refuge from themselves in a wilful ig- 
norance, sometimes lasting, sometimes 
transient, of the things in their life that 
disturb and displease them. It is the 
only thing to do here, my dear Cyril, and 
I will not deny that I have come to do it, 
like the rest. Since I cannot relieve the 
wrong I see, I have learned often to shut 
my eyes to it, with the effect, which most 
Americans experience, that, since there 
seems to be no way of righting the wrong, 



the wrong must be a sort of right. Yes, 
this infernal juggle of the mind ope- 
rates itself in me, too, at times, so that 
I doubt the reality of my whole happy 
life in the past, I doubt Altruria, I doubt 
you. 

I beseech you, therefore, to write me as 
often as you can, and as fully and vividly. 
Tell me of our country, remind me of the 
state where men dwell together as broth- 
ers ; use every device to make it living 
and real to me ; for here I often lose the 
memory and the sense of it, and at all 
times 1 have a weakened sense of the jus- 
tice and mercy that I once thought ruled 
this world, but which the Americans think 
rules only the world to come. 

A. Homos. 




"the vast steamboats sweep silently by. 



65 



i?i iiN %fe 



m, 



q»MiH 




LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 

By W. D. Howells. 
PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



V. 



New York, November 15, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

In my last I tried to give \ou some no- 
tion of the form and structure of this 
strange city, but I am afraid that I did it 
very vaguely and insufficiently. I do not 
suppose that I could ever do it fully, and 
perhaps the attempt was foolish. But I 
hope that I may, without greater folly, 
at least offer to share with you the feel- 
ing I have concerning American life, and 
most of all concerning New York life, that 
it is forever on the way, and never arrives. 
This is the effect that I constantly receive 
in the streets here and especially in the ave- 
nues, which are fitly named so far as avenue 
means approach merely. They are road- 
ways which people get back and forth by, 
in their haste from nowhere to nowhere, as 
it would seem to us. Of course they do 
physically reach their places of business 
downtown in the morning, and their places 
of eating and sleeping uptown in the even- 



ing ; but morally they are forever in tran- 
sition. Whether they are bent upon busi- 
ness, or bent upon pleasure, the Ameri- 
cans, or certainly the New Yorkers, per- 
petually postpone the good of life, as we 
know it in Altruria, and as it is known 
in some tranquiller countries even of the 
plutocratic world. They make money, 
but they do not have money, for there is 
no such thing as the sensible possession 
of money, and hardly of the things that 
money can buy. They seek enjoyment 
and they find excitement, for joy is the 
blessing of God, and like every good gift 
conies unsought, and flies pursuit. They 
know this, as well as we do, and in cer- 
tain moments of dejection, in the hours 
of pain, in the days of sorrow, they realize 
it, but at other times they ignore it. If 
they did not ignore it they could not live, 
they say, and they appear to think that 
by ignoring it they do live, though to 
me there^is nothing truly vital, in their 
existence. 

The greatest problem of their metropolis 



66 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



is not how best to be in this place or that, 
but how fastest to go from one to the 
other, and they have made guesses at 
the riddle, bad and worse, on each of 
the avenues, which, in their character 
of mere roadways, look as if the dif- 
ferent car-tracks had been in them first, 
and the buildings, high and low, had 
chanced along their sides afterwards. 
This is not the fact, of course, and it is 
not so much the effect on Fifth avenue, 
and Madison avenue, and Lexington ave- 
nue, which are streets of dwellings, solidly 
built up, like the cross streets. But it is 
undoubtedly the effect on all the other 
avenues, in great part of their extent. 
They vary but little in appearance other- 
wise, from east to west, except so far as the 
elevated railroads disfigure them, if thor- 
oughfares so shabby and repulsive as they 
mostly are, can be said to be disfigured, 
and not beautified by whatever can be 
done to hide any part of their ugliness. 
Where this is left to make its full impres- 
sion upon the spectator, there are lines of 
horse-cars perpetually jingling up and 
down except on Fifth avenue, where 
they have stages, as the New Yorkers 
call the unwieldly and unsightly ve- 
hicles that ply there, and on Second ave- 
nue, where they have electric cars, some- 
thing like our own, in principle. But the 
horse-cars run even under the elevated 
tracks, and you have absolutely no ex- 



perience of noise in the Altrurian life 
which can enable you to conceive of the 
hellish din that bursts upon the sense 
when at some corner two cars encounter 
on the parallel tracks below, while two 
trains roar and shriek and hiss on the 
rails overhead, and a turmoil of rat- 
tling express wagons, heavy drays and 
trucks, and carts, hacks, carriages and 
huge vans rolls itself between and beneath 
the prime agents of the uproar. The noise 
is not only deafening, it is bewildering ; 
you cannot know which side the danger 
threatens most, and you literally take 
your life in your hand when you cross in 
the midst of it. Broadway, which trav- 
erses the district I am thinking of, in a 
diagonal line till it loses its distinctive 
character beyond the Park, is the course 
of the cable cars. These are propelled by 
an endless chain running underneath the 
pavement with a silent speed that is more 
dangerous even than the tumultuous rush 
on the avenues. Now and then the appa- 
ratus for gripping the chain will not re- 
lease it, and then the car rushes wildly 
over the track, running amuck through 
everything in its way, and spreading ter- 
ror on every hand. When under control 
the long saloons advance swiftly, from 
either direction, at intervals of half a 
minute, with a monotonous alarum of 
their gongs, and the foot passenger has 
to look well to his way if he ventures 




VOU TAKE YOUR LIFK IN YOUR HAND WHEN YOU CROSS IN THE MIDST OF IT. 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



67 



across the track, lest in avoiding one car 
another roll him under its wheels. 

Apparentl}', the danger is guarded as 
well as it can be, and it has simply to be 
taken into the account of life in New- 
York, for it cannot be abated, and no one 
is to be blamed for what is the fault of 
everyone. It is true that there ought 
not, perhaps, to be any track in such a 
thoroughfare, but it would be hard to 
prove that people could get on without it, 
as they did before the theft of the street 
for the original horse-car track. Perhaps 
it was not a theft ; but at all events, and 
at the best, the street was given away 
by the city to an adventurer who wished 
to lay the tracks in it for his private gain, 
and none of the property owners along 
the line could help themselves. There is 
nothing that the Americans hold so dear, 
you know, or count so sacred, as private 
property ; life and limb are cheap in com- 
parison ; but private enterprise is allowed 
to violate the rights of private property, 
from time to time here, in the most dra- 
matic way. 

I do not speak, now, of the railroad 
companies, which have gridironed the 
country, in its whole length and breadth, 
and. which are empowered by their fran- 
chises to destroy the homes of the living 
and desecrate the graves of the dead, in 
running their lines from point to point. 
These companies do pay something, as 
little as they may, or as much as they 
must ; but the street-car company which 
took possession of Broadway never paid 
the abuttors anything, I believe ; and the 
elevated railroad companies are still re- 
sisting payment of damages on the four 
avenues which they occupied for their 
way up and down the city without offer- 
ing compensation to the property owners 




THE INTERMINABLE TUNNELS. 



along their route. If the community had 
built these roads, it would have indem- 
nified everyone, for the community is al- 
ways just when it is the expression of 
the common honesty here ; and if it is 
ever unjust, it is because the uncommon 
dishonest}' has contrived to corrupt it. 

Yet the Americans trust themselves so 
little in their civic embodiment that the 
movement for the public ownership of the 
railroads makes head slowly against an 
inconceivable prejudice. Last winter, 
when the problem of rapid transit pressed 
sorely upon the New Yorkers, the com- 
mission in charge could find no way to 
solve it but by offering an extension of 
franchise to the corporation which has al- 
ready the monopoly of it. There was no 
question of the city's building the roads, 
and working them at cost ; and if there 
had been, there would have been no ques- 
tion of submitting the project to those 
whose interests are involved. They have 
no such thing here as the referendum, and 
the Americans who are supposed to make 
their own laws, merely elect their repre- 
sentatives, and have no voice themselves 
in approving or condemning legislation. 

The elevated roads and the cable read 
had no right to be, on the terms that 
the New Yorkers have them, but they 
are by far the best means of transit in the 
city, and I must say that if they were not 
abuses, they would offer great comfort 
and great facility to the public. This is 
especially true of the elevated roads, 
which, when you can put their moral of- 
fense out of your mind, are alwa3S de- 
lightful in their ease and airy swiftness. 
The tracks are lifted upon iron piers, from 
twenty to fifty feet above the street, ac- 
cording to the inequality of the surface, 
and 3'ou fly smoothly along between the 
second and third story windows of the 
houses, which are shops below and dwell- 
ings above, on the avenues. The sta- 
tions, though they have the prevailing 
effect of over-use, and look dirty and un- 
kempt, are rather pretty in themselves; 
and 3'ou reach them, at frequent intervals, 
by flights of not ungraceful iron steps. 
The elevated roads are always pictur- 
esque, with here and there a sweeping 
curve that might almostbe called beautiful. 

They darken the avenues, of course, 
and fill them with an abominable uproar. 
Yet traffic goes underneath, and life goes 



68 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



on alongside and over- 
head, and the city has 
adjusted itself to 
them, as a man ad- 
justs himself to a 
chronic disease. I do 
not know whether 
they add to the foul- 
ness of the streets 
they pass through or 
not ; I hardly think 
they do. The mud 
lies longer, after a 
rain, in the intermin- 
able tunnels which 
they form over the 
horse-car tracks in 
the middle of the ave- 
nues, and which you 
can look through for 
miles ; but the mud 
does not blow into 
your nose and mouth 
as the dust does, and 
that is, so far, a posi- 
tive advantage. A 
negative advantage, 
which I have hinted, 
is that they hide so 
much of the street 
from sight, and keep 
you from seeing all 
its foulness and shab- 
biness, pitilessly 
open to the eye in the 
avenues which have 
only horse-car tracks 
in them. In fact, now 
that the elevated rail- 
roads are built, and 
the wrong they have 
done to persons is 
mainly past recall, 
perhaps the worst 
that can be said of 
them is that they do 
not serve their pur- 
pose. Of course, in 
plutocratic condi- 
tions, where ten men 
are always doing the 
work of one man in 
rivalry with each 
other, the passage of 
people to and from 
business is enormous : 




PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



69 



to get money, and the passage of women 
to spend it ; and at the hours of the morn- 
ing and the afternoon when the volume 
of travel is the greatest, the trains of the 
elevated roads offer a spectacle that is 
really incredible. 

Every seat in them is taken, and every 
■foot of space in the aisle between the seats 
is held by people standing, and swaying 
miserably to and fro by the leather straps 
dangling from the roofs. Men and women 
are indecently crushed together, without 
regard for that personal dignity which we 
prize, but which the Americans seem to 
know nothing of and care nothing for. 
The multitude overflows from the car, 
at either end, and the passengers are as 
tightly wedged on the platforms without 
as they are within. The long trains fol- 
low each other at intervals of two or three 
minutes, and at each station they make a 
stop of but a few seconds, when those 
who wish to alight fight their way through 
the struggling mass. Those who wish 
to mount fight their way into the car 
or onto the platform, where the guard 
slams an iron gate against fhe stomachs 
and in the faces of those arriving too late. 
Sometimes horrible accidents happen ; a 
man clinging to the outside of the gate 
has the life crushed out of his body 
against the posts of the station as the 
train pulls out. But in this land, where 
people have such a dread of civic collec- 
tivism of any kind, lest individuality 
should suffer, the individual is practically 
nothing in the regard of the corporate 
collectivities which abound. 

It is not only the corporations which 
outrage personal rights, in America ; 
where there is a question of interest, there 
seems to be no question of rights between 
individuals. They prey upon one another 




THE STATIONS ARE RATHER PRETTY IN THEMSELVES 



and seize advantages by force and by 
fraud in too many ways for me to hope 
to make the whole situation evident to 
you, but I may at least give 3'ou some no- 
tion of the wrong they do. The avenues 
to the eastward and westward have not 
grown up solidly and continuously in obe- 
dience to any law of order, or in pursuance 
of any meditated design. They have been 
pushed along given lines, in fragments, 
as builders saw their interest in offering 
buyers a house or a row of houses, or 
as they could glut or trick the greed of 
land-owners clinging to their land, and 
counting upon some need of it, in the 
hope of extorting an unearned profit from 
it. In one place you will see a vast and 
lofty edifice, of brick or stone, and on 
each side of it or in front of it, a structure 
one- fourth as high, or a row of scurvy 
hovels, left there till a purchaser comes, 
not to pay the honest worth of the land 
for it, but to yield the price the owner 
wants. In other places you see long 
stretches of high board fence, shutting in 
vacant lots, usually the best lots on the 
street, which the landlord holds for the 
rise destined to accrue to him from the 
building all round and beyond his prop- 
erty. In the meantime he pays a low tax 
on his land compared with the tax which 
the improved property pays, and gets 
some meager return for the use of his 
fence by the Italian fruiterers who build 
their stalls into it, and by the bill-posters 
who cover it with a medley of theatrical 
announcements, picturing the scenes of 
the different plays and the persons of the 
players. To the Altrurian public the sel- 
fishness of a man willing idly to benefit 
by the industry and energy of others in 
giving value to his possessions would be 
unimaginable. Yet this is so common 
here that it is accepted and 
honored as a proof of busi- 
ness sagacity ; and the man 
who knows how to hold on- 
to his land, until the very 
moment when it can enrich 
him most, though he has 
neither plowed nor sown it, 
or laid the foundation of a 
human dwelling upon it, is 
honored as a longheaded and 
solid citizen, who deserves 
well of his neighbors. There 
are many things which unite 



70 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 




"A PRECIPITOUS FALL OF TWELVE STORIES." 

to render the avenues unseemly and un- 
sightly, such as the apparently desperate 
tastelessness and the apparently instinct- 
ive uncleanliness of the New Yorkers. But 
as I stand at some point commanding a 
long stretch of one of their tiresome per- 
spectives, which is architecturally like 
nothing so much as a horse's jawbone, 
with the teeth broken or dislodged at 
intervals, I can blame nothing so much 
for the hideous effect as the rapacity of 
the land-owner holding on for a rise, as it 
is called. It is he who breaks the sky- 
line, and keeps the street, mean and poor 
at the best in design, a defeated purpose, 
and a chaos come again. 

Even when the owners begin to build, 
to improve their real estate, as the phrase 
is, it is without regard to the rights of their 
neighbors, or the feelings or tastes of the 
public, so far as the public may be sup- 
posed to have any. This is not true of the 
shabbier avenues alone, but of the finest, 
and of all the streets. If you will look, 
for instance, at the enclosed photograph of 
the street facing the southern limit of the 
Park, you will get some notion of what I 
mean, and I hope you will be willing to 
suffer by a little study of it. At the west- 
ern end you will see a vacant lot, with its 
high board fence covered with painted 
signs, then a tall mass of apartment 
houses ; then a stretch of ordinary New 
York dwellings of the old commonplace 
brownstone sort ; then a stable, and a 



wooden liquor saloon at the corner. Across 
the next avenue there rises far aloof the 
compact bulk of a series of apartment 
houses, which in color and design are the 
pleasantest in the city, and are so far 
worthy of their site. Beyond them to the 
eastward the buildings decline and fall, till 
they sink into another wooden drinking- 
shop on the corner of another avenue, 
where you will see the terminus of one of 
the elevated roads. Beyond this avenue 
is the fence of a large vacant lot, covered, 
as usual, with theatrical posters, and then 
there surges skyward another series of 
apartment houses. The highest of these 
is nearly fifty feet higher than its nearest 
neighbors, which sink again, till you sud- 
denly drop from their nondescript monot- 
ony to the gothic facade of a house of a 
wholly different color, in its pale sand- 
stone, from the red of their brick fronts. 
A vacant lot yawns here again, with a 
flare of theatrical posters on its fence, and 
beyond this, on the corner, is a huge hotel, 
the most agreeable of the three that tower 
above the fine square at the gate of the 
Park. With that silly American weak- 
ness for something foreign, this square 
is called the Plaza ; I believe that it 
is not at all like a Spanish plaza, but 
the name is its least offense. An irreg- 
ular space in the center is planted with 
trees, in whose shade the broken-kneed 
hacks of the public carriages droop their 
unhappy heads, without the spirit to bite 
the flies that trouble their dreams; and be- 
low this you get a glimpse of the conven- 
tional'cross-street terminating the Plaza. 
At the eastern corner of the avenue is a 
vacant lot, with pictorial advertisements 
painted on its fence, and then you come 
to the second of the great hotels which 
give the Plaza such character as it has. 
It is of a light-colored stone, and it towers 
far above the first, which is of brick. It is 
thirteen stories high, and it stops abruptly 
in a flat roof. On the next corner north 
is another hotel, which rises six or seven 
stories higher yet, and terminates in a sort 
of mansard, topping a romanesque cliff of 
yellow brick and red sandstone. I seek a 
term for the architectural order, but it may 
not be the right one. There is no term for 
the civic disorder of what succeeds. From 
the summit of this enormous acclivity 
there is a precipitous fall of twelve stories 
to the roof of the next edifice, which is a 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



71 




"THKRE are certain bits of quaintness. 

grocery ; and then to the florist's and pho- 
tographer's next is another descent of 
three stories ; on the corner is a drinking- 
saloon, one story in height, with a brick 
front and a wooden side. I will not ask 
you to go farther with me ; the avenue 
continues northward and southward in a 
delirium of lines and colors, a savage an- 
archy of shapes, which I should think 
the general experience of the beauty of 
the Fair City at Chicago would now 7 ren- 
der perceptible even to the dull Ameri- 
can sense. What exists is the necessary 
and inexorable effect of that uncivic in- 
dividuality which the Americans prize, 
and which can manifest itself only in 
harm and wrong ; but if 3011 criticised it 
you would surprise and alarm them al- 
most as much as if you attacked the atro- 
cious economic inequality it springs from. 
There are other points on Fifth avenue 
nearly as bad as this, but not quite, and 
there are long stretches of it, which, if 
dull, have at least a handsome uniformity. 
I have told you already that it is still 
upon the whole, the best of the avenues, 
in the sense of being the abode of the 



best, that is the richest people; the Amer- 
icans habitually use best in this sense. 
Madison avenue stretches northwest far- 
ther than the eye can reach, an intermin- 
able perspective of brownstone dwellings, 
as yet little invaded by business. Lex- 
ington avenue is of the same character, 
but of a humbler sort. On Second ave- 
nue, down town, there are large old man- 
sions of the time when Fifth avenue 
was still the home of the parvenus; and 
at different points on such other avenues 
as are spared by the elevated roads, there 
are blocks of decent and comfortable 
dwellings; but for the most part they are 
wholly given up to shops. Of course, 
these reiterate with the insane wasteful- 
ness of the competitive system the same 
business, the same enterprise, a thousand 
times. The Americans have no concep- 
tion of our distribution ; and though 
nearly everything they now use is made 
in large establishments, their wares are 
dispersed and sold in an infinitude of 
small stores. 

One hears a good deal about the vast em- 
poriums which are gathering the retail 
trade into themselves, and devastating the 
minor commerce, but there are perhaps a 
score of these at most, in New York; and 
on the shabbier avenues and cross-streets 
there are at least a hundred miles of little 
shops, where an immense population of 
little dealers levy tribute on the public 
through the profit they r live by. Until 
you actually see this, you can hardly con- 
ceive of such a multitude of people taken 
away from the labor due to all from all, 
and solely devoted to marketing the 
things made by people who are over- 
worked in making them. But bad as this 
is, and immoral as it is in Altrurian eyes, 
it is really harmless beside a traffic which 
is the most conspicuous on these avenues; 
I mean the traffic in intoxicating liquors, 
sold and drunk on the premises. I need 
not tell you that I still hold our national 
principles concerning the use of alcohol, 
but I have learned here to be lenient to 
its use, in a measure which you would 
not perhaps excuse. I perceive that as 
long as there is poverty there must be 
drunkenness, until the State interferes 
and sells a man only so much as he can 
safely drink. Yet, knowing as I do from 
the daily witness of the press and the 
courts, that drink is the source of most 



72 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



of the crimes and vices which curse 
this people, I find the private traffic in 
alcohol infinitely shocking, and the spec- 
tacle of it incredible. There is scarcely 
a block on any of the poorer avenues 
which has not its liquor store, and gen- 
erally there are two; wherever a street 
crosses them there is a saloon on at 
least one of the corners; sometimes on 
two, sometimes on three, sometimes even 
on all four. I had one day the curiosity 
to count the saloons on Sixth avenue, be- 
tween the Park, and the point down town 
where the avenue properly ends. In a 
stretch of some two miles I counted nine- 
ty of them, besides the eating houses 
where you can buy drink with your meat; 
and this avenue is probably far less in- 
fested with the traffic than some others. 
You may therefore safely suppose that 
out of the hundred miles of shops, there 
are ten, or fifteen, or twenty miles of 
saloons. They have the best places on 
the avenues, and on the whole they make 
the handsomest show, 
f hey all have a cheerful 
and inviting look, and 
if you step within, you 
hud them cosy, quiet, 
and for New York, clean. 
There are commonly ta- 
bles set about in them, 
where their frequenters 
can take their beer or 
whisky at their ease, and 
eat the free lunch which 
is often given in them; 
in a rear room you see a 
billiard table. In fact, 
they form the poor man's clubhouses 
and if he might resort to them with his 
family, and be in the control of the State 
as to the amount he should spend and 
drink there, I could not think them with- 
out their rightful place in an economy 
which saps the vital forces of the laborer 
with overwork, or keeps him in a fever 
of hope or a fever of despair., as to the 
chances of getting or not getting work 
when he has lost it. We at home, have 
so long passed the sad necessity to which 
such places minister, that we sometimes 
forget it, but you know how in our old 
competitive days, this traffic was one of 
the first to be taken out of private hands, 
and assumed by the State, which contin- 
ued to manage it without a profit so long 



as the twin crazes of competition and 
drunkenness endured among us. If you 
suggested this to the average American, 
however, he would be horror-struck. He 
would tell you that what you proposed was 
little better than anarchy; that in a free 
country you must always leave private 
persons free to debauch men's souls and 
bodies with drink, and make money out 
of their ruin ; that anytliing else was 
contrary to human nature, and an in- 
vasion of the sacred rights of the indi- 
vidual. Here in New York, this valuable 
principle is so scrupulously respected, 
that the saloon controls the municipality, 
and the New Yorkers think this is much 
better than for the municipality to control 
the saloon. It is from the saloon that 
their political bosses rise to power; it is 
in the saloon 
that all the elec- 
tion frauds are 
planned and fos- 
tered; and it 




LONG STRETCHES OF HIGH BOARD FENCE USED BY THE BILL-POSTERS. 

would be infinitely comic, if it were not so 
pathetic, to read the solemn homilies on 
these abuses in the journals which hold 
by the good old American doctrine of 
private trade in drink as one of the bul- 
warks of their constitution, and a chief 
defense against the advance of Altrurian 
ideas. 

Without it, there would be far less pov- 
erty than there is, but poverty is a good 
old American institution, too; there would 
inevitably be less inequality, but inequal- 
ity is as dear to the American heart as 
liberty itself. In New York the inequality 
has that effect upon the architecture which 
I have tried to give you some notion of; 
but in fact it deforms life here at every 
turn, and in nothing more than in the 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



73 




A ROW OF CARTS DRAWN UP BY THE STREET-SIDE." 



dress of the people, high and low. New 
York is, on the whole, without doubt, the 
best dressed community in America, or at 
least there is a certain number of people 
here, more expensively and scrupulously 
attired than you will find anywhere else 
in the country. I do not say beautifully, 
for their dress is of the fashion which 
you have seen in our Regionic museum, 
where we used to laugh over it together 
when we fancied people in it, and is a 
modification of the fashions that prevail 
everywhere in plutocratic Christendom. 
The rich copy the fashion set for them in 
Paris or in Tondon, and then the less rich, 
and the still less rich, down to the poor, 
follow them as they can, until you arrive 
at the very poorest, who wear the cast-off 
and tattered fashions of former years, and 
masquerade in a burlesque of the fortu- 
nate that never fails to shock and grieve 
me. They must all somehow be clothed ; 
the climate and the custom require it; 
but sometimes I think their nakedness 
would be less offensive; and when I meet 
a wretched man, with his coat out at el- 
bows, or split up the back, in broken 
shoes, battered hat, and frayed trousers, 
or some old woman or young girl in a 
worn-out, second-hand gown and bonnet, 
tattered and threadbare and foul, I think 
that if I w r ere an American, as I am an 
Altrurian, I would uncover my head to 
them, and ask their forgiveness for the 
system that condemns some one always 
to such humiliation as theirs. 

The Americans say such people are not 



humiliated, that they do not mind it, that 
they are used to it; but if they ever 
look these people in the eye, and see 
the shrinking, averted glance of their 
shame and tortured pride, they must know 
that what they say is a cruel lie. At any 
rate, the presence of these outcasts must 
spoil the beauty of any dress near them, and 
there is always so much more penury than 
affluence that the sight of the crowd in 
the New York streets must give more pain 
than pleasure. The other day on Fifth 
avenue, it did not console me to meet a 
young and lovely girl, exquisitely dressed 
in the last effect of Paris, after I had just 
parted from a young fellow who had 
begged me to give him a little money to 
get something to eat, for he had been 
looking for work a week and had got 
nothing. I suppose I ought to have 
doubted his word, he was so decently 
clad, but I had a present vision of him 
in rags, and I gave to the frowzy tramp 
he must soon become. 

Of course, this social contrast was ex- 
treme, like some of those architectural 
contrasts I have been noting, but it was 
by no means exceptional, as those were 
not. In fact, I do not know but I may 
say that it was characteristic of the place, 
though you might say that the prevalent 
American slovenliness was also charac- 
teristic of the New York street crowds ; I 
mean the slovenliness of the men ; the 
women, of whatever order they are, are 
always as much dandies as they can be. 
But most American men are too busy to 



74 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 



look much after their dress, and when 
they are very well to do they care very 
little for it. You see few men dressed 
with the distinction of the better class of 
Londoners, and when you do meet them, 
they have the air of playing a part, as in 
fact they are : they are playing the part 
of men of leisure in a nation of men whose 
reality is constant work, whether they 
work for bread or whether they work for 
money, and who, when they are at w T ork, 
outdo the world, but sink, when they are 
at leisure, into something third rate and 
fourth rate. The commonness of effect 
in the street crowds, is not absent from 
Fifth avenue or from Madison avenue 
anymore than it is from First avenue or 
Tenth avenue; and the tide of wealth and 
fashion that rolls up and down the better 
avenues in the splendid carriages, makes 
the shabbiness of the foot-passenger, when 
he is shabby, as he often is, the more appar- 
ent. On the far east side, and on the far 
west side, the horse-cars, which form the 
only means of transit, have got the dirt 
and grime of the streets and the dwellings 
on them and in them, and there is one 
tone of foulness in the passengers and the 
vehicles. I do not wish to speak other 
than tenderly of the poor but it is useless 
to pretend that they are other than offens- 
ive in aspect, and I have to take my sym- 
pathy in both hands when I try to bestow 
it upon them. Neither they nor the quar- 
ter they live in has any palliating quaint- 
ness ; and the soul, starved of beaut y, will 
seek in vain to feed itself with the husks 
of picturesqueness in their aspect. 

As I have said before, the shabby ave- 
nues have a picturesqueness of their own, 
but it is a repulsive picturesqueness, as 
I have already suggested, except at a dis- 
tance. There are some differences of level, 
on the avenues near the rivers, that give 
them an advantage of the more central 
avenues, and there is now and then a break 
of their line by the water, which is always 
good. I noticed this particularly on the 
eastern side of the city, which is also the 
older part, and which has been less sub- 
ject to the changes perpetually going on 
elsewhere, so that First avenue has really 
a finer sky-line, in many parts, than most 
parts of Fifth avenue. There are certain 
bits, as the artists sa}', in the old quarters 
of the town once forming Greenwich vil- 
lage, which, when I think of them, make 



me almost wish to take back what I have 
said of the absence even of quaintness in 
New York. If I recall the aspect of Mul- 
berry Bend and Elizabeth street, on a 
mild afternoon, when their Italian deni- 
zens are all either on the pavement or 
have their heads poked out of the win- 
dows, I am still more in doubt of my 
own words. But I am sure, at least, that 
there is no kindliness in the quaintness, 
such as you are said to find in European 
cities. It has undergone the same sort of 
malign change here that has transformed 
the Italians from the friendly folk we are 
told they are at home, to the surly race, 
and even savage race they mostly show 
themselves here: shrewd for their advance- 
ment in the material things, which seem 
the only good things to the Americanized 
aliens of all races, and fierce for their full 
share of the political pottage. The Ital- 
ians have a whole region of the city to 
themselves, and they might feel at home 
in it if something more than the filth of 
their native environment could repatriate 
them. 

As you pass through these streets, there 
is much to appeal to your pity in the 
squalid aspect of the people and the place, 
but nothing to take your fancy; and per- 
haps this is best, for I think that there is 
nothing more infernal than the juggle that 




MULBERRY BEND." 



PLUTOCRATIC CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS. 75 




A BIT OF GREENWICH VILLAGE. 



transmutes for the tenderest hearted peo- 
ple here the misery of their fellows into 
something comic or poetic. Only very 
rarely have I got any relief from the 
sheer distress which the prevalent pov- 
erty gives ; and perhaps you will not be 
able to understand how I could find this 
in the sight of some chickens going to 
roost on a row of carts drawn up by the 
street side, near a little hovel where some 
old people lived in a temporary respite 
from the building about them ; or from 
a cottage in outlying suburban fields, with 
a tar-roofed shanty for a stable, and an 
old horse cropping the pasturage of the 
enclosure, with a brood of turkeys at his 
heels. 

But in New York you come to be glad 
of anything that will suggest a sweeter 
and a gentler life than that which you 
mostly see. The life of the poor here 
seemed to me symbolized in a waste and 
ruined field that I came upon the other 
day in one of the westward avenues, which 
had imaginably once been the grounds 
about a pleasant home, or perhaps a public 
square. Till I saw this I did not think 
any piece of our mother earth could have 
been made to look so brutal and desolate 
amidst the habitations of men. But every 



spear of grass had been torn from it ; the 
hardened and barren soil was furrowed and 
corrugated like a haggard face, and it was 
all strewn with clubs and stones, as if it 
had been a savage battleground. A few 
trees, that seemed beaten back, stood aloof 
from the borders next the streets, where 
some courses of an ancient stone wall rose 
in places above the pavement. I found 
the sight of it actually depraving ; it 
made me feel ruffianly, and I mused upon 
it in helpless wonder as to the influence 
its ugliness must have had amidst the 
structural ugliness all about it, if some 
wretch had turned it in hopes of respite. 

But probably none ever does. Probably 
the people on the shabby streets and ave- 
nues are no more sensible of their hideous- 
ness than the people in the finer streets 
and avenues are aware of their dulness or 
their frantic disproportion. I have never 
heard a New Yorker speak of these things, 
and I have no doubt that if my words 
could come to the eyes of the average cul- 
tivated New Yorker he would be honestly 
surprised that anyone should find his city 
so ugly as it is. Dirty he would cheer- 
fully allow it to be, and he would be rather 
proud of telling you how much New York 
spent every year for not having herself 



76 



cleaned ; but that she was ludi- 
crously and wilfully ugly he 
could not believe. As for that 
first lesson of civilization 
which my words implicate, a 
civic control of the private 
architecture of the place, he 
would shrink from it with 
about as much horror as from 
civic control of the liquor trade. 
If he did not, he would still be 
unable to understand how the 
individual liberty that suffers 
a man to build offensively to 
his neighbor or to the public 
at large, is not liberty, but is 
a barbarous tyranny, which puts an end 
instantly to beauty, and extinguishes the 
common and the personal rights of even- 
one who lives near the offender or passes 
by his edifice. The Americans are yet 




ON THE EAST SIDE. 

so far lost in the dark ages as to suppose 
that there is freedom where the caprice 
of one citizen can interfere with the com- 
fort or pleasure of the rest. 

A. Homos. 



77 




mm, iFhQ 



LETTERS OF AN AI/TRURIAN 
TRAVELLER. 

By W. D. Howklls. 



VI. 

New York, 
November 9, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

If I spoke with Al- 
trurian breadth of the 
way New Yorkers live, 
I should begin by say- 
ing that the New 
Yorkers did not live 
at all. But outside of 
our happy country, 
one learns to distin- 
guish, and to allow 
that there are several 
degrees of living, all 
indeed hateful to us, if 
we knew them, and 
yet none without 
some saving grace in 
it. You would say that in conditions 
where men were embattled against one 
another by the greed, and the envy, and 
the ambition which these conditions per- 
petually appeal to, there could be no grace 
in life ; but we must remember that men 
have always been better than their con- 
ditions, and that otherwise they would 
have remained savages without the in- 
stinct or the wish to advance. Indeed, 
our own state is testimony of a potential 
civility in all states, which we must keep 
in mind when we judge the peoples of 




how people live; in a plutocratic city. 



the plutocratic world, 
and especially the 
American people, who 
are above all others the 
devotees and exemplars 
of the plutocratic ideal, 
without limitation by 
any aristocracy, the- 
ocracy, .or monarchy. 
They are purely com- 
mercial, and the thing 
that cannot be bought 
and sold, has logically 
no place in their life. But life is not log- 
ical, outside of Altruria ; we are the only 
people in the world, 1113^ dear Cyril, who 
are privileged to live reasonabl}- ; and 
again I say we must put by our own cri- 
terions if we wish to understand the 
Americans, or to recognize that measure 
of loveliness which their warped, and 
stunted, and perverted lives certainly 
show, in spice of theory and in spite of 
conscience, even. I can make this clear 
to you, I think, by a single instance, say 
that of the American who sees a case of 
distress, and longs to relieve it. If he is 
rich, he can give relief with a good con- 
science, except for the harm that may 
come to his beneficiary from being helped; 
but if he is not rich, or not finally rich, 
and especially if he has a family depend- 
ent upon him, he cannot give in anything 
like the measure Christ bade us give, 



78 



110 W PEOPLE LIVE IN A PLUTOCRA TIC CITY . 



without wronging those dear to him, im- 
mediately or remotely. That is to say, in 
conditions which oblige every man to 
look out for himself, a man cannot be a 
Christian without remorse ; he cannot do 
a generous action without self-reproach ; 
he cannot be nobly unselfish without the 
fear of being a fool. You would think 
that this predicament must deprave, and 
so without doubt it does ; and yet it is not 
wholly depraving. It often has its effect 
in character of a rare and pathetic sub- 
limity ; and many Americans take all the 
cruel risks of doing good, reckless of the 
evil that may befall them, and defiant of 
the upbraidings of their own hearts. This 
is something that we Altrurians can 
scarcely understand : it is like the munifi- 
cence of a savage who has killed a deer 
and shares it with his starving tribesmen, 
forgetful of the hungering little ones who 
wait his return from the chase with food ; 
for life in plutocratic countries is still a 
chase, and the game is wary and sparse, 
as the terrible average of failures wit- 
nesses. 

Of course, I do not mean that Ameri- 
cans may not give at all without sensible 
risk, or that giving among them is always 
followed by a logical regret ; but as I said, 
life with them is in nowise logical. They 
even applaud one another for their chari- 
ties, which they measure by the amount 
given, rather than by the love that goes 
with the giving. The widow's mite has 
little credit with them, but the rich man's 
million has an acclaim that reverberates 
through their newspapers long after his 
gift is made. It is only the poor in Amer- 
ica who do charity as we do by giving help 
where it is needed ; the Americans are 
mostly too busy, if they are at all pros- 
perous, to give anything but money ; and 
the more money they give, the more char- 
itable they esteem themselves. From time 
to time some man with twenty or thirty 
millions gives one of them away, usually 
to a public institution of some sort, where 
it will have no effect with the people who 
are underpaid for their work, or cannot 
get work ; and then his deed is famed 
throughout the continent as a thing real- 
ly beyond praise. Yet any one who thinks 
about it must know that he never earned 
the millions he kept, or the million he 
gave, but made them from the labor of 
others somehow ; that with all the wealth 



left him, he cannot miss the fortune he 
lavishes any more than if the check which 
conveyed it were a withered leaf, and not 
in anywise so much as an ordinary work- 
ingman might feel the bestowal of a post- 
age stamp. 

But in this study of the plutocratic 
mind, always so fascinating to me, I am 
getting altogether away from what I meant 
to tell you. I meant to tell you not how 
Americans live in the spirit, however il- 
logically, however blindly and blunder- 
ingly, but how they live in the body, and 
more especially how they house them- 
selves in this city of New York. A great 
many of them do not house themselves 
at all, but that is a class which we cannot 
now consider, and I will speak only of 
those who have some sort of roof over 
their heads. 

Formerly the New Yorker lived in one 
of three different ways : in private houses, 
or boarding-houses, or hotels ; there were 
few restaurants or public tables outside 
of the hotels, and those who had lodgings, 
and took their meals at eating-houses were 
but a small proportion of the whole num- 
ber. The old classification still holds in a 
measure, but within the last thirty years, 
or ever since the Civil War, when the 
enormous commercial expansion of the 
country began, several different wa3's of 
living have been opened. The first and 
most noticeable of these is housekeeping 
in flats, or apartments of three or four 
rooms or more, on the same floor, as in 
all the countries of Europe except Eng- 
land ; though the flat is now making it- 
self known in Eondon, too. Before the 
war, the New Yorker who kept house did 
so in a separate house, three or four stories 
in height, with a street door of its own. 
Its pattern within was fixed by long 
usage, and seldom varied ; without, it was 
of brown-stone before, and brick behind, 
with an open space there for dry ing clothes, 
which was sometimes gardened or planted 
with trees and vines. The rear of the city 
blocks which these houses formed was 
more attractive than the front, as you 
may still see in the vast succession of mo- 
notonous cross-streets not yet invaded by 
poverty or business ; and often the per- 
spective of these areas is picturesque and 
pleasing. But with the sudden growth 
of the population when peace came, and 
through the acquaintance the hordes of 



HOW PEOPLE LIVE IN A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



79 



American tourists had made with Euro- 
pean fashions of living, it became easy, or 
at least simple, to divide the floors of 
many of these private dwellings into apart- 
ments, each with its own kitchen and all 
the apparatus of housekeeping. The 
apartments then had the street entrance 
and the stairways in common, and they 
had in common the cellar and the fur- 
nace for heating ; they had in common 
the disadvantage of being badly aired 
and badly lighted. They were dark, 
cramped and uncomfortable, but they were 
cheaper than separate houses, and they 
were more homelike than boarding-houses 
or hotels. Large numbers of them still 
remain in use, and when people began to 
live in flats, in conformity with the law 
of evolution, many buildings were put up 
and subdivided into apartments in imita- 
tion of the old dwellings which had been 
changed into them. 

But the apartment as the New Yorkers 
now mostly have it, w T as at the same time 
evolving from another direction. The 
poorer class of New York work-people had 
for a long period before the war lived, as 
they still live, in vast edifices, once 
thought prodigiously tall, which were 
called tenement houses. In these a fam- 
ily of five or ten persons is commonly 
packed in two or three rooms, and even in 
one room, where they eat and sleep, with- 
out the amenities and often without the 
decencies of life, and of course without 
light and air. The buildings in case of 
fire are death-traps ; but the law obliges 
the owners to provide some apparent 
means of escape, which they do in the 
form of iron balconies and ladders giving 
that festive air to their facades which I 
have already noted. The bare and dirty 
entries and stair-cases are really ramifica- 
tions of the filthy streets without, and 
each tenement opens upon a landing as 
if it opened upon a public thoroughfare. 
The rents extorted from the inmates is 
sometimes a hundred per cent., and is 
nearly always cruelly out of proportion to 
the value of the houses, not to speak of the 
wretched shelter afforded ; and when the 
rent is not paid the family in arrears is 
set with all its poor household gear upon 
the sidewalk, in a pitiless indifference to 
the season and the weather, which you 
could not realize without seeing it, and 
which is incredible even of plutocratic 



nature. Of course, landlordism, which 
3'ou have read so much of, is at its worst 
in the case of the tenement houses. But 
you must understand that comparatively 
few people in New York own the roofs 
that shelter them. By far the greater 
number live, however they live, in houses 
owned by others, by a class who prosper 
and grow rich, or richer, simply by own- 
ing the roofs over other men's heads. The 
landlords have, of course, no human re- 
lation with their tenants, and really no 
business relations, for all the affairs be- 
tween them are transacted by agents. 
Some have the repute of being better 
than others ; but they all live, or ex- 
pect to live, without work, on their rents. 
They are very much respected for it ; the 
rents are considered a just return from 
the money invested. You must try to 
conceive of this as an actual fact, and not 
merely as a statistical statement. I know 
it will not be easy for you ; it is not easy 
for me, though I have it constantly be- 
fore my face. 

The tenement house, such as it is, is 
the original of the apartment house, which 
perpetuates some of its most character- 
istic features on a scale and in material 
undreamt of in the simple philosophy of 
the inventor of the tenement house. The 
worst of these features is the want of light 
and air, but as much more space, and as 
many more rooms are conceded as the 
tenant will pay for. The apartment house, 
however, soars to heights that the tene- 
ment house never half reached, and is 
sometimes ten stories high. It is built 
fire-proof, very often, and it is generally 
equipped with an elevator, which runs 
night and day, and makes one level of all 
the floors. The cheaper sort, or those 
which have departed less from the tene- 
ment house original, have no elevators, 
but the street door in all is kept shut and 
locked, and is opened only by the tenant's 
latchkey, or by the janitor having charge 
of the whole building. In the finer 
houses, there is a page whose sole duty it 
is to open and shut this door, and who is 
usually brass buttoned to one blinding 
effect of livery with the elevator boy. 
Where this page or hall-boy is found, 
the elevator carries you to the door of 
any apartment you seek ; where he is 
not found, there is a bell and a speak- 
ing-tube in the lower entry, for each 



80 



HOW PEOPLE LIVE IN A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



apartment, and yon ring np the occupant, 
and talk to him as many stories off as he 
happens to be. But people who can afford 
to indulge their pride will not live in this 
sort of apartment house, and the rents in 
them are much lower than in the finer sort. 
The finer sort are vulgarly fine for the 
most part, with a gaudy splendor of mo- 
saic pavement, marble stairs, frescoed 
ceilings, painted walls, and cabinet wood- 
work. But there are many that are fine 
in a good taste, in the things that are 
common to the inmates. Their fittings 
for housekeeping are of all degrees of per- 
fection, and except for the want of light 
and air, life in them has a high degree of 
gross luxury. The}^ are heated through- 
out with pipes of steam or hot water, and 
they are sometimes lighted with both gas 
and electricity, which the inmate uses at 
will, though of course at his own cost. 
Outside, they are the despair of architect- 
ure, for no style has yet been invented 
which enables the artist to characterize 
them with beauty, and wherever they lift 
their vast bulks they deform the whole 
neighborhood, throwing the other build- 
ings out of scale, and making it impos- 
sible for future edifices to assimilate them- 
selves to the intruder. 

There is no end to these apartment 
houses for multitude, and there is no 
street or avenue free from them. Of 
course the better sort are to be found on 
the fashionable avenues and the finer 
cross-streets, but others follow the course 
of the horse-car lines on the eastern and 
western avenues, and the elevated roads 
on the avenues which these have invaded. 
In such places they are shops below and 
apartments above, and I cannot see that 
the inmates seem at all sensible that the}^ 
are unfitly housed in them. People are 
born and married, and live and die in the 
midst of an uproar so frantic that you 
would think they would go mad of it; and 
I believe the physicians really attribute 
something of the growing prevalence of 
neurotic disorders to the wear and tear of 
the nerves from the vivid rush of the 
trains passing almost momently, and the 
perpetual jarring of the earth and air 
from their swift transit. I once spent an 
evening in one of these apartments, which 
a friend had taken for a few weeks last 
spring (you can get them out of the sea- 
son for any length of time), and as the 



weather had begun to be warm, we had 
the windows open, and so we had the full 
effect of the railroad operated under them. 
My friend had become accustomed to it, 
but for me it was an affliction which I 
cannot give you any notion of. The trains 
seemed to be in the room with us, and I 
sat as if I had a locomotive in my lap. 
Their shrieks and groans burst every sen- 
tence I began, and if I had not been mas- 
ter of that visible speech which we use so 
much at home, I never should have known 
what my friend was saying. I cannot tell 
you how this brutal clamor insulted me, 
and made the mere exchange of thought 
a part of the squalid struggle which is 
the plutocratic conception of life ; I came 
away after a few hours of it, bewildered 
and bruised, as if I had been beaten upon 
with hammers. 

Some of the apartments on the elevated 
lines are very good, as such things go ; 
they are certainly costly enough to be 
good ; and they are inhabited by people 
who can afford to leave them during the 
hot season when the noise is at its worst ; 
but most of them belong to people who 
must dwell in them summer and winter, 
for want of money and leisure to get out 
of them, and who must suffer incessantly 
from the noise I could not bear for a few 
hours. In health it is bad enough, but 
in sickness it must be horrible beyond all 
parallel. Imagine a mother with a dying 
child in such a -place ; or a wife bending 
over the pillow of her husband to catch 
the last faint whisper of farewell, as a 
Harlem train of five or six cars goes roar- 
ing hy the open window ! What horror, 
what profanation ! 

The noise is bad everywhere in New 
York, but in some of the finer apartment 
houses on the better streets, you are as 
well out of it as you can be anywhere in 
the city. I have been a guest in these at 
different times, and in one of them I am 
such a frequent guest that I may be said 
to know its life intimately. In fact, my 
hostess (women transact society so exclu- 
sively in America that you seldom think 
of your host) in the apartment I mean to 
speak of, invited me to explore it one night 
when I dined with her, so that I might, 
as she said, tell my friends when I got 
back to Altruria how people lived in 
America ; and I cannot feel that I am vio- 
lating her hospitality in telling you before 



HOW PEOPLE LIVE IN A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



81 



I get back. She is that Mrs. Makely, 
whom I met last summer in the moun- 
tains, and whom you thought so strange 
a type, but who is not altogether uncom- 
mon here. I confess that with all her 
faults, I like her, and I like to go to her 
house. She is, in fact, a very good wom- 
an, perfectly selfish by tradition as the 
American women must be, and wildly 
generous by nature, as they nearly always 
are ; and infinitely superior to her hus- 
band in cultivation, as is commonly the 
case here. As he knows nothing but bus- 
iness, he thinks it the only thing worth 
knowing, and he looks down on the tastes 
and interests of her more intellectual life, 
with amiable contempt, as something al- 
most comic. She respects business, too, 
and so she does not despise his ignorance 
as you would suppose ; it is at least the 
ignorance of a business man, who must 
have something in him beyond her ken, or 
else he would not be able to make money 
as he does. 

With your greater sense of humor, I 
think you would be amused if you could 
see his smile of placid self-satisfaction 
as he listens to our discussion of ques- 
tions and problems which no more enter 
his daily life than the}' enter the daily 
life of an Eskimo ; but I do not find it 
altogether amusing myself, and I could 
not well forgive it, if I did not know that 
he was at heart so simple and good, in 
spite of his commereiality. But he is 
sweet and kind, as the American men so 
often are, and he thinks his wife is the de- 
lightfullest creature in the world, as the 
American husband nearly always does. 
As a matter of form, he keeps me a little 
while with him after dinner, when she 
has left the table, and smokes his cigar, 
after wondering why we do not smoke in 
Altruria ; but I can see that he is impatient 
to get to her in their drawing-room, where 
we find her reading a book in the crimson 
light of the canopied lamp, and where he 
presently falls silent, perfectly happy to 
be near her. The drawing-room is of a 
good size itself, and it has a room open- 
ing out of it, called the library, with a 
case of books in it, and Mrs. Makely's 
pianoforte. The place is rather too richly 
and densely rugged, and there is rather 
more curtaining and shading of the win- 
dows than we should like ; but Mrs. 
Makely is too well up to date, as she 



would say, to have much of the bric-a- 
brac about which she tells me used to 
clutter people's houses here. There are 
some pretty good pictures on the walls, 
and a few vases and bronzes, and she says 
she has produced a greater effect of space 
by quelling the furniture ; she means, 
having few pieces and having them as 
small as possible. There is a little stand 
with her afternoon tea-set in one corner, 
and there is a pretty writing-desk in the 
library ; I remember a sofa, and some easy 
chairs, but not too many of them. She 
has a table near one of the windows, with 
books and papers on it. She tells me 
that she sees herself that the place is kept 
just as she wishes it, for she has rather a 
passion for neatness, and you never can 
trust servants not to stand the books on 
their heads, or study a vulgar symmetry 
in the arrangements. She never allows 
them in there, she says, except when they 
are at work under her eye ; and she never 
allows anybody there except her guests, 
and her husband after he has smoked. Of 
course her dog must be there ; and one 
evening after her husband fell asleep in 
the armchair near her, the dog fell asleep 
on the fleece at her feet, and we heard 
them softly breathing in imison. 

She made a pretty little mocking mouth 
when the sound first became audible, and 
said that she ought really to have sent 
Mr. Makely out with the dog, for the dog 
ought to have the air every day, and she 
had been kept indoors ; but sometimes 
Mr. Makely came home from business so 
tired that she hated to send him out, even 
for the dog's sake, though he was so apt 
to become dyspeptic. "They won't let 
you have dogs in some of the apartment 
houses, but I tore up the first lease that 
had that clause in it, and I told Mr. Makely 
that I would rather live in a house all my 
days, than an} r flat where my dog wasn't 
as welcome as I was. Of course, they're 
rather troublesome." 

The Makelys had no children, but it is 
seldom that the occupants of apartment 
houses of a good class have children, 
though there is no clause in the lease 
against them. I verified this fact from 
Mrs. Makely herself, by actual inquiry, 
for in all the times that I had gone up and 
down in the elevator to her apartment, I 
had never seen any children. She seemed 
at first to think I was joking, and not to 



82 



HOW PEOPLE LIVE IN A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



like it, but when she found that I was in 
earnest, she said that she did not suppose 
all the families living- under that roof 
had more than four or five children 
among them. She said that it would be 
inconvenient ; and I could not allege the 
tenement houses, where children seemed 
to swarm, for it is but too probable that 
they do not regard convenience in such 
places, and that neither parents nor 
children are more comfortable for their 
presence. 

Comfort is the American ideal, in a cer- 
tain way, and comfort is certainly what is 
studied in such an apartment as the 
Makelys inhabit. We* got to talking 
about it, and the ease of life in such con- 
ditions, and it was then she made me that 
offer to .show me her flat, and let me re- 
port to the Altrurians concerning it. She 
is all impulse, and she asked, how would 
I like to see it now? and when I said I 
should be delighted, she spoke to her hus- 
band, and told him that she was going to 
show me through the flat. He roused 
himself promptly, and went before us, at 
her bidding, to turn up the electrics in 
the passages and rooms, and then she led 
the way out through the dining-room. 

" This and the parlors count three, and 
the kitchen here is the fourth room of the 
eight," she said, and as she spoke she 
pushed open the door of a small room, 
blazing with light, and dense with the 
fumes of the dinner and the dishwashing 
which was now going on in a closet open- 
ing out of the kitchen. 

She showed me the set range, at one 
side, and the refrigerator in an alcove, 
which she said went with the flat, and 
" L,ena," she said to the cook, " this is the 
Altrurian gentleman I was telling you 
about, and I want him to see your kitchen. 
Can I take him into your room ? ' ' 

The cook said, "Oh, yes, ma'am," and 
she gave me a good stare, while Mrs. 
Makely went to the kitchen window, and 
made me observe that it let in the outside 
air, though the court that it opened into 
was so dark that one had to keep the elec- 
trics going in the kitchen night and day. 
" Of course, it's an expense," she said, as 
she closed the kitchen door after us. She 
added in a low, rapid tone, "You must 
excuse my introducing the cook. She 
has read all about you in the papers — you 
didn't know, I suppose, that there were 



reporters, that day of your delightful talk 
in the mountains, but I had them — and 
she was wild, when she heard you were 
coming, and made me promise to let her 
have a sight of you somehow. She says 
she wants to go and live in Altruria, and 
if you would like to take home a cook, 
or a servant of any kind, you wouldn't 
have any trouble. Now here," she ran 
on, without a moment's pause, while she 
flung open another door, "is what you 
won't find in every apartment house, even 
very good ones, and that's a back-eleva- 
tor. Generally, there are only stairs, and 
they make the poor things climb the whole 
way up from the basement, when they 
come in, and all your marketing has to 
be brought up that way, too; sometimes 
they send it up on a kind of dumb-wait- 
er, in the cheap places, and you give 
your orders to the marketmen down be- 
low through a speaking-tube. But here 
we have none of that bother, and this 
elevator is for the kitchen and the house- 
keeping part of the flat. The grocer's 
and the butcher's man, and anybody who 
has packages for you, or trunks, or that 
sort of thing, use it, and, of course, it's 
for the servants, and they appreciate 
not having to walk up, as much as any- 
body." 

"Oh, yes," I said, and she shut the 
elevator door, and opened another a little 
beyond it. 

" This is our guest-chamber," she con- 
tinued, as she ushered me into a very 
pretty room, charmingly furnished. " It 
isn't very light by day, for it opens on a 
court, like the kitchen and the servants' 
room here," and with that she whipped 
out of the guest-chamber and into another 
doorway, across the corridor. This room 
was very much narrower, but there were 
two small beds in it, very neat and clean, 
with some furnishings that were in keep- 
ing, and a good carpet under foot. Mrs. 
Makely was clearly proud of it, and ex- 
pected me to applaud it ; but I waited for 
her to speak, which upon the whole she 
probably liked as well. 

" I only keep two servants, because in 
a flat there isn't really room for more, 
and I put out the wash and get in clean- 
ing-women when it's needed. I like to 
use my servants well, because it pays, 
and I hate to see anybody imposed upon. 
Some people put in a double-decker, as 



HOW PEOPLE LIVE IN A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



83 



they call it, a bedstead with two tiers, 
like the berths on a ship; but I think 
that's a shame, and I give them two reg- 
ular beds, even if it does crowd them a 
little more, and the beds have to be rather 
narrow. This room has outside air, from 
the court, and though it's always dark, 
it's very pleasant, as you see." I did not 
say that I did not see, and this sufficed 
for Mrs. Makely. 

"Now," she said, "I'll show you our 
rooms," and she flew down the corridor 
toward two doors that stood open side by 
side, and flashed into them before me. 
Her husband was already in the first she 
entered, smiling in supreme content with 
his wife, his belongings and himself. 

"This is a southern exposure, and it 
has a perfect gush of sun from morning 
till night. Some of the flats have the 
kitchen at the end, and that's stupid ; you 
can have a kitchen in any sort of hole, 
for you can keep on the electrics, and 
with them the air is perfectly good. As 
soon as I saw these chambers, and found 
out that they would let 3 r ou keep a dog, 
I told Mr. Makely to sign the lease in- 
stant^, and I would see to the rest." 

She looked at me, and I praised the 
room and its dainty tastefulness to her 
heart's content, so that she said : " Well, 
it's some satisfaction to show you any- 
thing, Mr. Homos, you are so appreci- 
ative. I'm sure you'll give a good account 
of us to the Altrurians. Well, now we'll 
go back to the pa — drawing-room. This 
is the end of the story." 

" Well," said her husband, with a wink 
at me, " I thought it was to be continued 
in our next," and he nodded toward the 
door that opened from his wife's bower 
into the room adjoining. 

"Why, you poor old fellow!" she 
shouted. " I forgot all about your room," 
and she dashed into it before us and be- 
gan to show it off. It was equipped with 
every bachelor luxur} r , and with every 
appliance for health and comfort. ' ' And 
here," she said, "he can smoke, or any- 
thing, as long as he keeps the door shut. 
. . . Oh, good gracious ! I forgot the 
bath-room," and they both united in 
.showing me this, with its tiled floor and 
walls and its porcelain tub ; and then 
Mrs. Makely flew up the corridor before 
us. "Put out the electiics, Dick ! " she 
called back over her shoulder. 



When we were again seated in the 
drawing-room, which she had been so near 
calling a parlor, she continued to bubble 
over with delight in herself and her apart- 
ment. "Now, isn't it about perfect?" 
she urged, and I had to own that it was 
indeed very convenient and very charm- 
ing ; and in the rapture of the moment, 
she invited me to criticise it. 

"I see very little to criticise," I said, 
"from your point of view; but I hope 
you won't think it indiscreet if I ask a 
few questions ? " 

She laughed. "Ask anything, Mr. 
Homos ! I hope I got hardened to your 
questions in the mountains." 

"She said you used to get off some 
pretty tough ones," said her husband, 
helpless to take his eyes from her, al- 
though he spoke to me. 

" It is about your servants," I began. 

"Oh, of course! Perfectly character- 
istic ! Goon!" 

" You told me that they had no natural 
light either in the kitchen or their bed- 
room. Do they never see the light of 
day ? " 

The lady laughed heartily. ' < The 
waitress is in the front of the house sev- 
eral hours every morning at her work, 
and they both have an afternoon off once 
a week. Some people only let them go 
once a fortnight ; but I think they are 
human beings as well as we are, and I let 
them go every week." 

" But, except for that afternoon once a 
week, your cook lives in electric light per- 
petually ? " 

" Electric light is very healthy, and it 
doesn't heat the air ! " the lady triumphed. 
" I can assure you that she thinks she's 
very well off; and so she is." I felt a lit- 
tle temper in her voice, and I was silent, 
until she asked me, rather stiffly : "Is 
there any other inquiry you would like to 
make ? ' ' 

" Yes," I said, "but I do not think you 
would like it." 

" Now, I assure you, Mr. Homos, you 
were never more mistaken in your life. I 
perfectly delight in your naivete. I know 
that the Altrurians don't think as we do 
about some things, and I don't expect it. 
What is it you would like to ask ? " 

"Well, why should you require your 
servants to go down on a different eleva- 
tor from yourselves ? ' ' 



84 



HOW PEOPLE LIVE IN A PLUTOCRATIC CITY. 



"Why, good gracious ! " cried the lady. 
" Aren't they different from us in every 
way ? To be sure they dress up in their 
ridiculous best when they go out, but 
you couldn't expect us to let them use 
the front elevator? I don't want to go 
up and down with my own cook, and 
I certainly don't with my neighbor's 
cook ! ' ' 

" Yes, I suppose you would feel that an 
infringement of your social dignity. But 
if you found yourself beside a cook in a 
horse-car or other public conveyance, you 
would not feel personally affronted? " 

"No, that is a very different thing. 
That issomething wecannot control. But, 
thank goodness, we can control our eleva- 
tor, and if I were in a house where I had 
to ride up and down with the servants, I 
would no more stay in it than I would in 
one where I couldn't keep a dog. I should 
consider it a perfect outrage. I cannot 
understand yon, Mr. Homos ! You are a 
gentleman, and you must have the tra- 
ditions of a gentleman, and yet you ask 
me such a thing as that ! " 

I saw a cast in her husband's eye which 
I took for a hint not to press the mat- 
ter, and so I thought I had better say, 
" It is only that in Altruria we hold serv- 
ing in peculiar honor." 

"Well," said the lady scornfully, "if 
you went and got your servants from an 
intelligence office, and had to look up 
their references, you wouldn't hold them 
in very much honor. I tell }'ou they look 
out for their own interests as sharply as 
we do for ours, and it's nothing between us 
but a question of—' ' 

" Business," suggested her husband. 

" Yes," she assented, as if this clinched 
the matter. 

"That's what I'm always telling 3^011, 
Dolly, and yet you will try to make them 
your friends, as soon as you get them into 
your house. You want them to love you, 
and you know that sentiment hasn't got 
anything to do with it." 

" Well, I can't help it, Dick. I can't 
live with a person without trying to like 
them, and wanting them to like me. And 
then, when the ungrateful things are 
saucy, or leave me in the lurch as they do 
half the time, it almost breaks my heart. 
But I'm thankful to say that in these 
hard times they won't be apt to leave a 
good place without a good reason." 



"Are there many seeking employ- 
ment?" I asked this because I thought 
that it was safe ground. 

"Well, they just stand around in the 
offices as thick!" said the lady. "And 
the Americans are trying to get places 
as well as the foreigners. But I won't 
have Americans. The}' are too uppish, 
and they are never half as well trained 
as the Swedes or the Irish. They still 
expect to be treated as one of the fam- 
ily. I suppose," she continued, with a 
lingering ire in her voice, "that in Al- 
truria, you do treat them as one of the 
family ? ' ' 

" We have no servants, in the American 
sense," I answered as inoffensively as I 
could. 

Mrs. Makely irrelevantly returned tc 
the question that had first provoked her 
indignation. " And I should like to know 
how much worse it is to have a back ele- 
vator for the servants than it is to have 
the basement door for the servants, as you 
always do when you live in a separate 
house? " 

"I should think it was no worse," I 
admitted, and I thought this a good 
chance to turn the talk from the danger- 
ous channel it had taken. " I wish, Mrs. 
Makely, you would tell me something 
about the way people live in separate 
houses in New York." 

She was instantly pacified. "Why, I 
should be delighted. I only wish my 
friend Mrs. Bellington Strange was back 
from Europe, and I could show you a 
model house. I mean to take you there, 
as soon as she gets home. She's a kind 
of Altrurian herself, you know. She was 
in}' dearest friend at school, and it al- 
most broke my heart when she mar- 
ried Mr. Strange, so much older, and 
her inferior every way. But she's got 
his money now, and O, the good she 
does do with it ! I know you'll like each 
other, Mr. Homos. I do wish Eva was 
at home ! ' ' 

I said that I should be very glad to 
meet an American Altrurian, but that 
now I wished she would tell me about the 
normal New York house, and what was 
its animating principle, beginning with 
the basement door. 

She laughed and said, " Why it's just 
like any other house ! ' ' 

A. Homos. 



85 




LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



By W. D. Howells. 



PLUTOCRATIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



VII. 

New York, November 25, 1893. 

I CAN never insist enough, my dear 
Cyril, upon the illogicality of Amer- 
ican life. You know what the plutocratic 
principle is, and what the plutocratic civ- 
ilization should logically be. But the 
plutocratic civilization is much better than 
it should logically be, bad as it is ; for the 
personal equation constantly modifies it, 
and renders it far less dreadful than you 
would reasonably expect. That is, the 
potentialities of goodness implanted in the 
human heart by the Creator forbid the 
plutocratic man to be what the plutocratic 
scheme of life implies. He is often mer- 
ciful, kindly and generous, as I have told 
you already, in spite of conditions abso- 
lutely egoistical. You would think that 
the Americans would be abashed in view 
of the fact that their morality is often 
in contravention of their economic prin- 
ciples, but apparently they are not so, 
and I believe that for the most part they 
are not aware of the fact. Nevertheless, 
the fact is there, and you must keep it 
in mind, if you would conceive of them 
rightly. You can in no other way account 



for the contradictions which you will find 
in my experiences among them ; and these 
are often so bewildering, that I have to 
take myself in hand, from time to time, 
and ask myself what mad world have I 
fallen into, and whether, after all, it is not 
a ridiculous nightmare. I am not sure, 
that when I return, and we talk these 
things over together, I shall be able to 
overcome your doubts of my honesty, and 
I think that when I no longer have them 
before my eyes, I shall begin to doubt my 
own memory. But for the present, I can 
only set down what I at least seem to see, 
and trust you to accept it, if you cannot 
understand it. 

Perhaps I can aid you by suggesting 
that, logically, the Americans should be 
what the Altrurians are, since their polity 
embodies our belief that all men are born 
equal, with the right to life, liberty, and 
the pursuit of happiness ; but that illogi- 
cally they are what the Europeans are, 
since they still cling to the economical 
ideals of Europe, and hold that men are 
born socially unequal, and deny them the 
liberty and happiness which can come 
from equality alone. It is in their public 
life and civic life that Altruria prevails ; 



86 



PLUTO CR A TIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



it is in their social and domestic life that 
Europe prevails ; and here, I think, is the 
severest penalty they must pay for ex- 
cluding women from political affairs ; for 
women are at once the best and the worst 
Americans : the best because their hearts 
are the purest, the worst because their 
heads are the idlest. "Another contra- 
diction ! " you will say, and I cannot deny 
it ; for with all their cultivation, the Amer- 
ican women have no real intellectual inter- 
ests, but only intellectual fads ; and while 
they certainly think a great deal, they 
reflect little, or not at all. The inventions 
and improvements which have made their 
household work easy, the wealth that has 
released them in such vast numbers from 
work altogether, has not enlarged them 
to the sphere of duties which our Altru- 
rian women share with us, but has left 
them, with their quickened intelligences, 
the prey of the trivialities which engross 
the European women, and which have 
formed the life of the sex hitherto in every 



country where women have an economical 
and social freedom without the political 
freedom that can alone give it dignity 
and import. They have a great deal 
of beauty, and they are inconsequently 
charming ; I need not tell you that they 
are romantic and heroic, or that they 
would go to the stake for a principle, if 
they could find one, as willingly as any 
martyr of the past ; but they have not 
much more perspective than children, and 
their reading and their talking about their 
reading, seem not to have broadened their 
mental horizons beyond the old sunrise 
and the old sunset of the kitchen and the 
parlor. 

In fine, the American house as it is, the 
American household, is what the Amer- 
ica 'i woman makes it, and wills it to be, 
whether she wishes it to be so or not ; for I 
often find that the American woman wills 
things that she in nowise wishes. What 
the normal New York house is, however, 
I had great difficulty in getting Mrs. 




Drawn by Reginald Coa 



NO REAL INTELLECTUAL INTEREST. 



PLUTOCRA TIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



87 





88 



PLUTOCRA TIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



Makely to tell me, for, as she said quite 
frankly, she could not imagine my not 
knowing. She asked me if I really wanted 
her to begin at the beginning, and when 
I said that I did, she took a little more 
time to laugh at the idea, and then she 
said: "I suppose you mean a brown- 
stone, four-story house in the middle of 
a block ? ' ' 

" Yes, I think that is what I mean," I 
said. 

" Well," she began, " those high steps 
that they all have, unless they're English 
basement-houses, really gives them an- 
other story, for people used to dine in the 
front room of their basements. You've 
noticed the little front yard, about as big 
as a handkerchief, generally, and the steps 
leading down to the iron gate, which is 
kept locked, and the basement door inside 
the gate? Well, that's what you might 
call the back-elevator of a house," for it 
serves the same purpose : the supplies are 
brought in there, and marketmen go in 
and out, and the ashes, and the swill, and 
the servants — that you object to so much. 
We have no alleys in New York, the 
blocks are so narrow, north and south ; 
and, of course, we have no back doors ; 
so we have to put the garbage out on the 
sidewalk ; and it's nasty enough, good- 
ness knows. Underneath the sidewalk, 
there are bins where people keep their 
coal and kindling. You've noticed the 
gratings in the pavements ? " 

I said yes, and I was ashamed to own 
that at first I had thought them some sort 
of registers for tempering the cold in win- 
ter ; this would have appeared ridiculous 
in the last degree to my hostess, for the 
Americans have as yet no conception of 
publicly modifying the climate, as we do. 

" Back of what used to be the dining- 
room, and what is now used for a laundry, 
generally, is the kitchen, with closets be- 
tween, of course, and then the back yard, 
which some people make very pleasant 
with shrubs and vines ; the kitchen is usu- 
ally dark and close, and the girls can get 
a breath of fresh air in the yard ; I like to 
see them ; but generally it's taken up with 
clothes-lines, for people in houses nearly 
all have their washing done at home. 
Over the kitchen is the dining-room, which 
takes up the whole of the first floor, with 
the pantry, and it almost always has a 
bay-window out of it ; of course, that over- 



hangs the kitchen, and darkens it a little 
more, but it makes the dining-room so 
pleasant. I tell my husband that I would 
be almost willing to live in a house again, 
just on account of the dining-room bay- 
window. I had it full of flowers in pots, 
for the southern sun came in ; and then 
the yard was so nice for the dog ; you 
didn't have to take him out for exercise, 
yourself ; he chased the cats there and got 
plenty of it. I must say that the cats on 
the back fences, were a drawback at night ; 
to be sure, we have them here, too ; it's 
seven stories down, but you do hear them, 
along in the spring. The parlor, or draw- 
ing-room, is usually rather long, and runs 
from the dining-room to the front of the 
house, though where the house is very 
deep, they have a sort of middle-room, or 
back-parlor. Dick, get some paper and 
draw it ! Wouldn't you like to see a plan 
of the floor?" 

I said that I would, and she bade her 
husband make it like their old house in 
West Thirty-third. We all looked at it 
together. 

" This is the front door," Mrs. Makely 
explained, "where people come in, and 
then begins the misery of a house : stairs ! 
They mostly go up straight, but some- 
times they have them curve a little, and 
in the new houses the architects have all 
sorts of little dodges for squaring them 
and putting landings. Then on the sec- 
ond floor— draw it, Dick !— you have two 
nice large chambers, with plenty of light 
and air, before and behind. I do miss the 
light and air in a flat, there's no denying 
it." 

« ' You' 11 go back to a house yet, Dolly, ' ' 
said her husband. 

" Never ! " she almost shrieked, and he 
winked at me, as if it were the best joke 
in the world. " Never, as long as houses 
have stairs ! ' ' 

" Put you in an elevator," he suggested. 

"Well, that is what Eveleth Strange 
has, and she lets the servants use it, too," 
and Mrs. Makely said, with a look at me: 
"I suppose that would please you, Mr. 
Homos. Well, there's a nice side-room 
over the front door here, and a bath-room 
at the rear. Then you have more stairs, 
and large chambers, and two side-rooms. 
That makes plenty of chambers for a small 
family. I used to give two of the third-story 
rooms to my two girls. I ought really to 



PL UTOCRA TIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



89 



have made them sleep in one ; it seemed 
such a shame to let the cook have a whole 
large room to herself ; but I had nothing- 
else to do with it, and she did take such 
comfort in it, poor old thing-. You see, 
the rooms came wrong in our house, for 
it fronted north, and I had to give the girls 
sunny rooms, or else give them front 
rooms, so that it was as broad as it was 
long. I declare, I was perplexed about it 
the whole time we lived there, it seemed 
so perfectly anomalous." 

"And what is an English basement- 
house like?" I ventured to ask, in inter- 
ruption of the retrospective melancholy 
she had fallen into. 

" Oh, never li ve in an English basement- 
house, if you value your spine!" crier* 
the lady. "An English basement-house 
is nothing but stairs. In the first place, 
it's only one room wide, and it's a story 
higher than a high-stoop house. It's one 
room forward and one back, the whole 
way up ; and in an English basement it's 
always up, and never down. If I had my 
way, there wouldn't one stone be left upon 
another in the English basements in New 
York." 

I have suffered Mrs. Makely to be 
nearly as explicit to you as she was to 
me ; for the kind of house she described 
is of the form ordinarily prevailing in all 
American cities, and you can form some 
idea from it how city people live here. I 




Drawn by Reginald Coxe. 

"OFTEN WISHES Hli WAS A MASTER-Mi 



ought perhaps to tell you that such a 
house is fitted with every housekeeping 
convenience, and that there is hot and cold 
water throughout, and gas everywhere. 
It has fireplaces in all the rooms, where fires 
are often kept burning for pleasure ; but 
it is really heated from a furnace in the 
basement, through large pipes carried to 
the different stories, and opening into 
them by some such registers as we use. 
The separate houses sometimes have 
steam-heating, but not often. They each 
have their drainage into the sewer of the 
street, and this is trapped and trapped 
again, as in the houses of our old pluto- 
cratic cities, to keep the poison of the 
sewer from getting into the houses. 

You will be curious to know something 
concerning the cost of living in such a 
house, and you may be sure that I did 
not fail to question Mrs. Makely on this 
point. She was at once very volubly 
communicative ; she told me all she 
knew, and, as her husband said, "a great 
deal more." 

"Why, of course," she began, "you 
can spend all you have, in New York, if 
you like, and people do spend fortunes 
every year. But I suppose you mean the 
average cost of living in a brownstone 
house, in a good block, that rents for 
$1800 or $2000 a year, with a family of 
three or four children, and two servants. 
Well, what should you say, Dick ? " 

"Ten or twelve 
thousand a year," 
answered her hus- 
band. 

"Yes, fully that," 
she answered, with 
an effect of disap- 
pointment in his fig- 
ures. "We had just 
ourselves, and we 
never spent less than 
seven, and we didn't 
dress, and we didn't 
entertain, either, to 
speak of. But you 
have to live on a cer- 
tain scale, and gen- 
erally you live up to 
,-V your income." 

" Quite," said Mr. 
Makely. 

"I don't know 
:." what makes it cost 



90 



PLUTOCRATIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



so. Provisions are cheap enough, and they 
say people live in as good style for a third 
less in London. There used to be a super- 
stition that you could live for less in a 
flat, and they always talk to you about 
the cost of a furnace, and a man to tend 
it, and keep the snow shovelled off your 
sidewalk, but that is all stuff. Five hun- 
dred dollars will make up the whole differ- 
ence, and more. You pay quite as much 
rent for a decent flat, and then you don't 
get half the room. No, if it wasn't for 
the stairs, I wouldn't live in a fiat for 
an instant. But that makes all the 
difference." 

1 ' And the young people, ' ' I urged ; 
"those who are just starting in life, how 
do they manage ? Say when the husband 
has $1500 or $2500 a year ? " 

" Poor things ! " she returned. "I don't 
know how they manage. They board, 
till they go distracted, or they dry up, 
and blow away ; or else the wife has a 
little money, too ; and they take a small 
flat, and ruin themselves. Of course, 
they want to live nicely, and like other 
people." 

"But if they didn't?" 

1 ' Why, then they could live delight- 
fully. My husband says he often wishes 
he was a master-mechanic in New York, 
with a thousand a year, and a flat for 
twelve dollars a month ; he would have 
the best time in the world. ' ' 

Her husband nodded his acquiescence. 
" Fighting-cock wouldn't be in it," he 
said. " Trouble is, we all want to do the 
swell thing." 

"But you can't all do it," I ventured, 
" and from what I see of simple, out-of- 
the-way neighborhoods in my walks, you 
don't all try." 

"Why, no," he said. "Some of us 
were talking about that the other night 
at the club, and one of the fellows was 
saying that he believed there was as much 
old-fashioned, quiet, almost countrified 
life in New York, among the great mass 
of the people, as you'd find in any city in 
the world. Said you met old codgers that 
took care of their own furnaces, just as 
you would in a town of five thousand 
inhabitants." 

"Yes, that's all very well," said his 
wife. "But they wouldn't be nice peo- 
ple. Nice people want to live nicely. 
And so they live beyond their means, or 



else they scrimp and suffer. I don't 
know which is worst." 

" But there is no obligation to do 
either ? " I asked. 

" Oh, yes, there is," she returned. "If 
you've been born in a certain waj', and 
brought up in a certain way, you can't 
get out of it. You simply can't. You 
have got to keep in it till you drop. Or 
a woman has." 

"That means the woman's husband, 
too," said Mr. Makely, with his wink for 
me. " Always die together." 

In fact, there is the same competition 
in the social world as in the business 
world ; and it is the ambition of every 
American to live in some such house as 
the New York house, and as soon as a 
village begins to grow into a town, such 
houses are built. Still, the immensely 
greater number of the Americans neces- 
sarily live so simply and cheaply, that 
such a house would be almost as strange 
to them as to an Altrurian. But while 
we should regard its furnishings as vul- 
gar and unwholesome, most Americans 
would admire and covet its rich rugs or 
carpets, its papered walls, and thickly 
curtained windows, and all its foolish or- 
namentation, and most American women 
would long to have a house like the ordi- 
nary high-stoop New York house, that 
they might break their backs over its 
stairs, and become invalids, and have 
servants about them to harass them and 
hate them. 

Of course, I put it too strongly, for 
there is often, illogically, a great deal of 
love between the American women and 
their domestics, though why there should 
be any at all I cannot explain, except by 
reference to that mysterious personal 
equation which modifies all stations here. 
You will have made your reflection that 
the servants, as they are cruelly called, 
(I have heard them called so in their 
hearing, and wondered they did not fly 
tooth and nail at the throat that uttered 
the insult), form really no part of the 
house, but are aliens in the household 
and the family life. In spite of this fact, 
much kindness grows up between them 
and the family, and they do not always 
slight the work that I cannot understand 
their ever having any heart in. Often 
they do slight it, and they insist unspar- 
ingly upon the scanty privileges which 



PLUTOCRATIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



91 



their mistresses seem to think a mon- 
strous invasion of their own rights. The 
habit of oppression grows upon the op- 
pressor, and you would find tenderhearted 
women here, gentle friends, devoted wives, 
loving mothers, who would be willing that 
their domestics should remain indoors, 
week in and week out, and, where they 
are confined in the ridiculous American 
flat, never see the light of day. In fact, 
though the Americans do not know it, 
and would be shocked to be told it, their 
servants are really slaves, who are none 
the less slaves, because they cannot be 
beaten, or bought and sold except by the 
week or month, and for the price which 
they fix themselves, and themselves re- 
ceive in the form of wages. They are 
social outlaws, so far as the society of the 
family they serve is concerned, and they 
are restricted in the visits they receive 
and pay among themselves. They are 
given the worst rooms in the house, and 
they are fed with the food that they have 
prepared, only when it comes cold from 
the family table ; in the wealthier houses, 
where many of them are kept, they are 
supplied a coarser and cheaper victual 
bought and cooked for them apart from 
that provided for the family. They are 
subject at all hours, from six in the morn- 
ing till any time of night, to the pleasure 
or caprice of the master or mistress. In 
fine, every circumstance of their life is 
an affront to their pride, to that just self- 
respect which even Americans allow is 
the right of every human being. With 
the rich, they are said to be sometimes in- 
dolent, dishonest, mendacious, and all that 
Plato long ago explained that slaves must 
be ; but in the middle-class families they 
are mostly faithful, diligent, and reliable 
in a degree that would put to shame most 
business men who hold positions of trust 
in the plutocracy, and would leave many 
ladies whom they relieve of work without 
ground for comparison. 

After Mrs. Makely had told me about 
the New York house, we began to talk 
of the domestic service, and I ventured 
to hint some of the things that I have 
so plainly said to you. She frankly con- 
sented to my whole view of the matter, for 
if she wishes to make an effect or gain a 
point, she has a magnanimity that stops 
at nothing short of self-devotion. "I 
know it," she said. "You are perfectly 



right ; but here we are, and what are we 
to do? What do you do in Altruria, I 
should like to know ? " 

I said that in Altruria we all worked, 
and that personal service was as honored 
among us as medical attendance in Amer- 
ica ; I did not know what other compari- 
son to make ; but that any one in health 
would think it as unwholesome and as 
immoral to let another serve him as to 
let a doctor physic him. At this Mrs. 
Makely and her husband laughed so 
that I found myself unable to go on for 
some moments, till Mrs. Makely, with a 
final shriek, shouted to him, "Dick, do 
stop, or I shall die! Excuse me, Mr. 
Homos, but you are so deliciously funny, 
and I know you're just joking. You won't 
mind my laughing. Do go on ! " 

I tried to give her some notion as to how 
we manage, in our common life, which we 
have simplified so much beyond anything 
that this barbarous people dream of; and 
she grew a little soberer as I went on, and 
seemed at least to believe that, as her hus- 
band said, I was not stuffing them ; but 
she ended, as they always do here, by 
saying that it might be all very well in 
Altruria, but it would never do in America, 
and that it was contrary to human nature 
to have so many things done in common. 
" Now, I'll tell you," she said. "After we 
broke up housekeeping in Thirty-third 
street, we stored our furniture — " 

' < Excuse me ! " I said. « « How, stored ? ' ' 

"Oh, I dare say you never store your 
furniture in Altruria. But here we have 
hundreds of storehouses of all sorts and 
sizes, packed with furniture that people 
put into them when they go to Europe, or 
get sick to death of servants and the whole 
bother of housekeeping ; and that's what 
we did ; and, then, as my husband says, 
we browsed about for a year or two. First, 
we tried hotelling it, and we took a hotel 
apartment furnished, and dined at the 
hotel table, until I certainly thought I 
should go off, I got so tired of it. Then, 
we hired a suite in one of the family ho- 
tels that there are so many of, and got out 
enough of our things to furnish it, and 
had our meals in our rooms ; they let you 
do that for the same price, often they are 
glad to have you, for the dining-room is 
so packed. But everything got to tasting 
just the same as everything else, and my 
husband had the dyspepsia so bad he 



92 



PLUTOCRATIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



couldn't half attend to business, and I 
suffered from indigestion myself, cooped 
up in a few small rooms, that way; and 
the dog almost died ; and finally, we gave 
that up, and took an apartment, and got 
out our things — the storage cost as much 
as the rent of a small house — and put 
them into it, and had a caterer send in the 
meals, as they do in Europe. But it isn't 
the same here as it is in Europe, and we 
got so sick of it in a month that I thought 
I should scream when I saw the same old 
dishes coming on the table, day after day. 




Drawn by Reginald Coxe. 



THE KITCHEN WINDOW. 



We had to keep one servant — excuse me, 
Mr. Homos ; domestic — anyway, to look 
after the table and the parlor and chamber 
work, and my husband said we might as 
well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and 
so we got in a cook ; and bad as it is, it's 
twenty million times better than anything 
else you can do. Servants are a plague, 
but you have got to have them, and so I 
have resigned myself to the will of Provi- 



dence. If they don't like it, neither do I, 
and so I fancy it's about as broad as it's 
long." I have found this is a favorite 
phrase of Mrs. Makely's, and that it seems 
to give her a great deal of comfort. 

" And you don't feel that there's any 
harm in it? " I ventured to ask. 

"Harm in it?" she repeated. "Why, 
aren't the poor things glad to get the 
work ? What would they do without 
it?" 

" From what I see of your conditions I 
should be afraid that they would starve," 
I said. 

"Yes, they can't 
all get places in 
shops or restau- 
rants, and they 
have to do some- 
thing, or starve, as 
you say," she said; 
and she seemed to 
think what I had 
said was a conces- 
sion to her posi- 
tion. 

" But if it were 
your own case?" 
I suggested. "If 
you had no alter- 
natives but starva- 
tion and domestic 
service, you would 
think there was 
harm in it, even 
although you were 
glad to take a ser- 
vant's place?" 

I saw her flush, 

and she answered 

haughtily , "You 

must excuse me if 

I refuse to imagine 

myself taking a 

servant's place, 

even for the sake 

of argument." 

"And you are quite right," I said. 

« « Your American instinct is too strong to 

brook even in imagination the indignities 

which seem daily, hourly and momently 

inflicted upon servants in your system." 

To my great astonishment she seemed 
delighted by this conclusion. "Yes," she 
said, and she smiled radiantly, " and now 
you understand how it is that American 
girls won't go out to service, though the 



PLUTOCRA TIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



93 



pay is so much better and they are so 
much better housed and fed ; and every- 
thing. Besides," she added, with an irrel- 
evance which always amuses her husband, 
though I should be alarmed by it for her 
sanity if I did not find it so characteristic 
of women here, who seem to be mentally 
characterized by the illogicality of the civ- 
ilization, " they're not half so good as the 
foreign servants, even when you can get 
them. They've been brought up in homes 
of their own, and they're uppish, and they 
have no idea of anything but third-rate 
boarding-house cooking, and they're al- 
ways hoping to get married, so that, 
really, you have no peace of your life 
with them." 

" And it never seems to you that the 
whole relation is wrong? " I asked. 

"What relation? " 

" That between maid and mistress, the 
hirer and the hireling." 

" Why, good gracious ! " she burst out. 
"Didn't Christ himself say that the la- 
borer was worthy of his hire ? And how 
would you get your work done, if you 
didn't pay for it? " 

" It might be done for you, when you 
could not do it yourself, from affection." 

"From affection!" she returned, with 
the deepest derision. "Well, I rather 
think I shall have to do it myself if I want 
it done from affection ! But I suppose you 
think I ought to do it myself, as the Altru- 
rian ladies do? I can tell you that in 
America it would be impossible for a lady 
to do her own work, and there are no in- 
telligence offices where you can find girls 
that want to work for love. It's as broad 
as it's long." 

"It's simply business," said her hus- 
band. 

They were right, my dear Cyril, and I 
was wrong, strange as it must appear to 
you. The tie of service, which we think 
as sacred as the tie of blood, can be here 
only a business relation, and in these 
conditions service must forever be grudg- 
ingly given and grudgingly paid. There 
is something in it, I do not quite know 
what, for I can never place myself pre- 
cisely in an American's place, that de- 
grades the poor creatures who serve, so 
that they must not only be social out- 
casts, but must leave such a taint of dis- 
honor on their work, that one cannot even 
do it for oneself without a sense of out- 



raged dignity. You might account for 
this in Europe, where ages of prescriptive 
wrong have distorted the relation out of 
all human wholesomeness and Christian 
loveliness ; but in America, where many, 
and perhaps most, of those who keep ser- 
vants and call them so, are but a single 
generation from fathers who earned their 
bread by the sweat of their brows, and 
from mothers who nobly served in all 
household offices, it is in the last degree 
bewildering. I can only account for it by 
that bedevilment of the entire American 
ideal through the retention of the English 
economy when the English polity was re- 
jected. But at the heart of America there 
is this ridiculous contradiction, and it 
must remain there until the whole coun- 
try is Altrurianized. There is no other 
hope ; but I did not now urge this point, 
and we turned to talk of other things, 
related to the matters we had been dis- 
cussing. 

"The men," said Mrs. Makely, "get 
out of the whole bother very nicely, as 
long as they are single, and even when 
they're married, they are apt to run off to 
the club, when there's a prolonged up- 
heaval in the kitchen." 

"/don't, Dolly," suggested her hus- 
band. 

" No, you don't, Dick," she returned, 
fondly. "But there are not many like 
you." 

He went on, with a wink at me : "I 
never live at the club, except in summer, 
when you go away to the mountains." 

"Well, you know I can't very well take 
you with me," she said. 

" Oh, I couldn't leave my business, 
anyway," he said, and he laughed. 

I had noticed the vast and splendid 
club-houses in the best places in the city, 
and I had often wondered about their 
life, which seemed to me a blind groping 
towards our own, though only upon terms 
that forbade it to those who most needed 
it. The clubs here are not like our 
groups, the free associations of sympa- 
thetic people, though one is a little more 
literary, or commercial, or scientific, or 
political than another ; but the entrance 
to each is more or less jealously guarded ; 
there is an initiation fee, and there are an- 
nual dues, which are usually heavy enough 
to exclude all but the professional and 
business classes, though there are, of 



94 



PLUTO CR A TIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



course, successful artists and authors in 
them. During the past winter I visited 
some of the most characteristic, where I 
dined and supped with the members, or 
came alone when one of these put me 
down, for a fortnight or a month. 

They are equipped with kitchens and 
cellars, and their wines and dishes are of 
the best. Each is, in fact, like a luxurious 
private house on a large scale ; outwardly 
they are palaces, and inwardly they have 
every feature and function of a princely 
residence complete, even to a certain num- 
ber of guest-chambers, where members 
may pass the night, or stay indefinitely, 
in some cases, and actually live at the 
club. The club, however, is known only 
to the cities and the larger towns, in this 
highly developed form ; to the ordinary, 
simple American, of the country, or of 
the country town of five or ten thousand 
people, a New York club would be as 
strange as it would be to any Altrurian. 

"Do many of the husbands left behind 
in the summer live at the clubs?" I 
asked. 

"All that have a club, do," he said. 
" Usually, there's a very good table d'hote 
dinner that you couldn't begin to get for 
the same price anywhere else ; and there 
are a lot of good fellows there, and you can 
come pretty near forgetting that you're 
homeless, or even that you're married." 

He laughed, and his wife said : "You 
ought to be ashamed, Dick ; and me wor- 
rying about you all the time I'm away, 
and wondering what the cook gives you 
here. Yes," she continued, addressing me, 
"that's the worst thing about the clubs. 
They make the men so comfortable that 
they say it's one of the principal obstacles 
to early marriages. The young men try 
to get lodgings near them, so that they 
can take their meals there, and they know 
they get much better things to eat than 
they could have in a house of their own 
at a great deal more expense, and so they 
simply don't think of getting married. 
Of course," she said with that wonderful, 
unintentional, or at least unconscious, 
frankness of hers, "I don't blame the 
clubs altogether. There's no use denying 
that girls are expensively brought up, and 
that a young man has to think twice be- 
fore taking one of them out of the kind 
of home she's- used to, and putting her 
into the kind of home he can give her. I 



suppose it's as broad as it's long. If the 
clubs have killed early marriages, the 
women have created the clubs." 

< ' Do women go much to them ? " I 
asked, choosing this question as a safe 
one. 

"Much!" she screamed. " They don't 
go at all! They can't! They won't let 
us ! To be sure, there are some that have 
rooms where ladies can go with their 
friends who are members, and have lunch 
or dinner ; but as for seeing the inside of 
the club-house proper, where these great 
creatures " — she indicated her husband — 
"are sitting up, smoking and telling 
stories, it isn't to be dreamed of." 

Her husband laughed. " You wouldn't 
like the smoking, Doll}'." 

" Nor the stories, either, some of them," 
she retorted. 

" Oh, the stories are always first rate," 
he said, and he laughed more than before. 

" And they never gossip, at the clubs, 
Mr. Homos, never ! " she added. 

" Well, hardly ever," said her husband, 
with an intonation that I did not under- 
stand. It seemed to be some sort of catch- 
phrase. 

" All I know," said Mrs. Makely, " is 
that I like to have my husband belong to 
his club. It's a nice place for him in sum- 
mer ; and very often in winter, when I'm 
dull, or going out somewhere that he 
hates, he can go down to his club, and 
smoke a cigar, and come home just about 
the time I get in, and it's much better 
than worrying through the evening with 
a book. He hates books, poor Dick !" 
She looked fondly at him, as if this were 
one of the greatest merits in the world. 
" But I must confess, I shouldn't like him 
to be a mere club man, like some of them." 

" But how ? " I asked. 

" Why, belonging to five or six, or 
more, even ; and spending their whole 
time at them, when they're not at busi- 
ness." 

There was a pause, and Mr. Makely put 
on an air of modest worth, which he car- 
ried off with his usual wink toward me. 
I said, finally, ' ' And if the ladies are not 
admitted to the men's clubs, why don't 
they have clubs of their own ? " 

' ' Oh, they have,— several, I believe. But 
who wants to go and meet a lot of women ? 
You meet enough of them in society, good- 
ness knows. You hardly meet any one 



PLUTOCRATIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



95 



else, especially at afternoon teas. They 
bore you to death." 

Mrs. Makely's nerves seemed to lie in 
the direction of a prolongation of this sub- 
ject, and I asked my next question a little 
away from it. "I wish you would tell 
me, Mrs. Makely, something about your 
way of provisioning your household. You 
said that the grocer's and butcher's man 
came up to the kitchen with your sup- 
plies — " 

' ' Yes, and the milkman and the iceman ; 
the iceman always puts the ice into the 
refrigerator ; it's very convenient, and 
quite like your own house." 

'< But you go out and select the things 
yourself, the day before, or in the morn- 
ing?" 

" Oh, not at all ! The men come and 
the cook gives the order ; she knows 
pretty well what we want on the differ- 
ent days, and I never meddle with it from 
one week's end to the other, unless we 
have friends. The tradespeople send in 
their bills at the end of the month, and 
that's all there is of it." Her husband 
gave me one of his queer looks, and she 
went on : " When we were younger, and 
just beginning housekeeping, I used to 
go out and order the things myself ; I used 
even to go to the big markets, and half kill 
myself, trying to get things a little cheaper 
at one place than another, and waste more 
car- fare, and lay up more doctor's bills 
than it would all come to, ten times over. 
I used to fret my life out, remembering the 
prices ; but now, thank goodness, that's 
all over. I don't know any more what 
beef is a pound than my husband does ; 
if a thing isn't good, I send it straight 
back, and that puts them on their honor, 
you know, and they have to give me the 
best of everything. The bills average 
about the same, from month to month ; 
a little more if we have company ; but if 
they're too outrageous, I make a fuss with 
the cook, and she scolds the men, and 
then it goes better for a while. Still, it's 
a great bother. ' ' 

I confess that I did not see what the 
bother was, but I had not the courage 
to ask, for I had already conceived a 
wholesome dread of the mystery of an 
American lady's nerves. So I merely 
suggested, "And that is the way that 
people usually manage ? " 

" Why," she said, " I suppose that 



some old-fashioned people still do their 
marketing, and people that have to look 
to their outgoes, and know what every 
mouthful costs them. But their lives are 
not worth having. Eveleth Strange does 
it — or she did do it when she was in the 
country ; I dare say she won't when she 
gets back — just from a sense of duty, and 
because she says that a housekeeper ought 
to know about her expenses. But I ask 
her who will care whether she knows or 
not ; and as for giving the money to the 
poor that she saves by spending econom- 
ically, I tell her that the butchers and the 
grocers have to live, too, as well as the 
poor, and so it's as broad as it's long." 

I could not make out whether Mr. 
Makely approved of his wife's philosophy 
or not ; I do not believe he thought much 
about it. The money probably came eas- 
ily with him, and he let it go easily, as 
an American likes to do. There is noth- 
ing penurious or sordid about this curious 
people, so fierce in the pursuit of riches. 
When these are once gained, they seem 
to have no value to the man who has won 
them, and he has generally no object in life 
but to see his womankind spend them. 

This is the season of the famous Thanks- 
giving, which has now become the national 
holiday, but has no longer any savor in 
it of the grim Puritanism it sprang from. 
It is now appointed by the president and 
the governors of the several States, in 
proclamations enjoining a pious gratitude 
upon the people for their continued pros- 
perity as a nation and a public acknowl- 
edgment of the divine blessings. The 
blessings are supposed to be of the mate- 
rial sort, grouped in the popular imagina- 
tion as good times, and it is hard to see 
what they are in these days of adversity, 
when hordes of men and women of every 
occupation are feeling the pinch of poverty 
in their different degree. It is not merely 
those who have always the wolf at their 
doors, who are now suffering, but those 
whom the wolf never threatened before ; 
those who amuse, as well as those who 
serve the rich, are alike anxious and fear- 
ful, where they are not already in actual 
want ; thousands of poor players, as well 
as hundreds of thousands of poor laborers, 
are out of employment ; and the winter 
threatens to be one of dire misery. Yet 
you would not imagine from the smiling 
face of things, as you would see it in the 



96 



PLUTOCRA TIC HOUSEKEEPING. 



better parts of this great city, that there 
was a heavy heart or an empty stomach 
anywhere below it. In fact, people here 
are so used to seeing other people in want 
that it no longer affects them as reality, 
it is merely dramatic, or hardly so life- 
like as that ; it is merely histrionic. It is 
rendered still more spectacular to the im- 
aginations of the fortunate by the melo- 
drama of charity they are invited to take 
part in by endless appeals, and their fancy 
is flattered by the notion that they are cur- 
ing the distress they are only slightly re- 
lieving by a gift from their superfluity. 
The charity, of course, is better than noth- 
ing, but it is a fleeting mockery of the 
trouble at the best. If it were proposed that 
the city should subsidize a theater at which 
the idle players could get employment in 
producing good plays at a moderate cost 
to the people, the notion would not be con- 
sidered more ridiculous than that of 
founding municipal works for the differ- 
ent sorts of idle workers ; and it would 
not be thought half so nefarious, for the 
proposition to give work by the collectiv- 




Drawn by Reginald Coxe 



GOOD NIGHT ! 



ity is supposed to be in contravention of 
the sacred principle of monopolistic com- 
petition so dear to the American econo- 
mist, and it would be denounced as an ap- 
proximation to the surrender of the city 
to anarchism and destruction by dynamite. 
But as I have so often said, the American 
life is in nowise logical, and you will not 
be surprised, though you may be shocked 
or amused to learn that the festival of 
Thanksgiving is now so generally de- 
voted to witnessing a game of foot-ball be- 
tween the Elevens of two great universi- 
ties, that the services at the churches 
are very scantily attended. The Ameri- 
cans are practical, if they are not logical, 
and this preference of foot-ball to prayer 
and praise on Thanksgiving day has gone 
so far that now a principal church in the 
city holds its services on Thanksgiving 
eve, so that the worshippers may not be 
tempted to keep away from their favorite 
game. 

There is always a heavy dinner at home 
after the game, to console the friends of 
those who have lost, and to heighten the joy 
of the winning side, among 
the comfortable people. The 
poor recognize the day 
largely as a sort of carnival. 
They go about in masquer- 
ade on the eastern avenues, 
and the children of the for- 
eign races who populate that 
quarter, penetrate the better 
streets, blowing horns, and 
begging of the passers. 
They have probably no more 
sense of its difference from 
the old carnival of catholic 
Europe than from the still 
older Saturnalia of pagan 
times. Perhaps you will 
say that a masquerade is no 
more pagan than a foot-ball 
game ; and I confess that I 
have a pleasure in that inno- 
cent misapprehension of the 
holiday on the East side. I 
am not more censorious of 
it than I am of the displays 
of festival cheer at the pro- 
vision stores, or green-gro- 
ceries throughout the city 
at this time. They are al- 
most as numerous on the 
avenues as the drinking 



97 



saloons, and thanks to them, the wasteful 
housekeeping is at least convenient in a 
high degree. The waste is inevitable with 
the system of separate kitchens, and it is 
not in provisions alone, but in labor and 
in time, a hundred cooks doing the work 
of one ; but the Americans have no con- 
ception of our cooperative housekeeping, 
and so the folly goes on. Meantime, the 
provision stores add much to their effect 
of crazy gayety on the avenues. 

The variety and harmony of color is very 
great, and this morning I stood so long 
admiring the arrangement in one of them, 
that I am afraid I rendered myself a little 
suspicious to the policeman guarding the 
liquor store on the nearest corner ; there 
seems always to be a policeman assigned 
to this duty. The display was on either 
side of the provisioner's door, and began 
on one hand with a basal line of pump- 



kins well out on the sidewalk. Then it 
was built up with the soft white and cool 
green of cauliflowers, and open boxes of 
red and white grapes, to the window that 
flourished in banks of celery and rosy 
apples. On the other side, gray-green 
squashes formed the foundation, and the 
wall was sloped upward with the delicious 
salads you can find here, the dark red of 
beets, the yellow of carrots, and the blue 
of cabbages. The association of colors 
was very artistic and even the line of mut- 
ton carcases overhead, with each a brace of 
grouse, or half a dozen quail in its em- 
brace, and flanked with long sides of beef 
at the four ends of the line, was pictu- 
resque, though the sight of the carnage at 
the provision stores here would always be 
dreadful to an Altrurian ; in the great 
markets it is intolerable. This sort of 
business is mostly in the hands of the 
Germans, who have a good eye for such 
effects as may be studied in it ; but the 
fruiterers are nearly all Italians, and their 
stalls are charming. I always like, too, 
the cheeriness of the chestnut and peanut 
ovens of the Italians ; the pleasant smell 
and friendly smoke that rise from them 
suggest a simple and homelike life, which 
there are so many things in this great, 
weary, heedless city to make one forget. 
A. Homos. 



98 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



By W. D. Howells. 



DINNER, VERY INFORMALLY. 



VIII. 

New York, December i, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

I did not suppose that I should be 
writing you so soon again, but I was out 
for my first dinner of the season, last 
night, and I must try to give you my 
impressions of it while they are .still fresh. 
Only the day after I posted my last letter, 
I received the note which I enclose: 

My dear Mr. Homos: 

Will you give me the pleasure of your 
company, at dinner, on Thanksgiving 
Day, at eight o'clock, very informally. 
My friend, Mrs. Bellington Strange, has 
unexpectedly returned from Europe, with- 
in the week, and I am asking a few friends, 
whom I can trust to excuse this very short 
notice, to meet her. 
With Mr. Makely's best regards, 
Yours cordially, 

Dorothea Makely. 
The Sphinx, 

November the twenty-sixth, 
Eighteen hundred and 
Ninety-three. 

I must explain to you that it has been 
a fad with the ladies here to spell out 
their dates, and though the fashion is 
waning, Mrs. Makely is a woman who 
would remain in such an absurdity among 
the very last. I will let you make your own 
conclusions concerning her, for though, as 
an Altrurian, I cannot respect her, I like 
her so much, and I have so often enjoyed 
her generous hospitality, that I cannot 
bring myself to criticise her except by the 
implication of the facts. She is anom- 
alous, but to our way of thinking, all the 
Americans I have met are anomalous, and 
she has the merits that you would not 
logically attribute to her character. Of 
course, I cannot feel that her evident re- 
gard, for me is the least of these, though I 



like to think that it is more founded in 
reason than the rest. 

I have by this time become far too well 
versed in the polite insincerities of the 
plutocratic world to imagine, that because 
she asked me to come to her dinner, very 
informally, I was not to come in all the 
state I could put into my dress. You 
know what the evening dress of men is, 
here, from the costumes in our museum, 
and you can well believe that I never put 
on those ridiculous black trousers without 
a sense of their grotesqueness, that scrap 
of waistcoat reduced to a mere rim, so as 
to show the whole white breadth of the 
starched shirt bosom, and that coat 
chopped away till it seems nothing but 
tails and lapels. It is true that I might 
go out to dinner in our national costume; 
in fact, Mrs. Makely has often begged to me 
to wear it, for she says the Chinese wear 
theirs ; but I have not cared to make the 
sensation which I must if I wore it; my 
outlandish views of life, and my frank 
study of theirs signalize me quite suf- 
ficiently among the Americans. 

At the hour named, I appeared at Mrs. 
Makely ' s drawing-room in all the formality 
that I knew her invitation, to come very in- 
formally, really meant. I found myself the 
first, as I nearly always do, but I had only 
time for a word or two with my hostess 
before the others began to come. She 
hastily explained that as soon as she 
knew Mrs. Strange was in New York, she 
had dispatched a note telling her that I 
was still here; and that as she could not 
get settled in time to dine at home, she 
must come and take Thanksgiving with 
her. < ' She will have to go out with Mr. 
Makely; but I am going to put you next 
to her at table, for I want you both to have 
a good time. But don't you forget that 
you are going to take me out." I said 
that I should certainly not forget it, and 
I showed her the envelope with my name 
on the outside, and hers on a card inside, 



DINNER, VER Y INFORM ALL Y. 



99 



which the serving man at the door had 
given me in the hall, as the first token, 
after her letter, that the dinner was to be 
in the last degree unceremonious. She 
laughed, and said : "I've had the luck to 
pick up two or three other agreeable peo- 
ple that I know will be glad to meet you. 
Usually, it's such a scratch lot at Thanks- 
giving, for everybody dines at home that 
can, and you have to trust to the high- 
ways and the byways for your guests, if 
you give a dinner. But I did want to 
bring Mrs. Strange and you together, and 
so I chanced it. Of course, it's a sent-in 
dinner, as you must have inferred from 
the man at the door; I've given my ser- 
vants a holiday, and had Claret's people 
do the whole thing. It's as broad as it's 
long, and as my husband says, you might 
as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb; 
and it saves bother. Everybody will 
know it's sent in, so that nobody will be 
deceived. There'll be a turkey in it some- 
where, and cranberry sauce; I've insisted 
on that: but it won't be a regular Ameri- 
can Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm rather 
sorry, on your account, for I wanted you 
to see one, and I meant to have had you 
here, just with ourselves ; but Eveleth 
Strange' s coming back put a new face on 
things, and so I've gone in for this affair, 
which isn't at all what you would like. 
That's the reason I tell you at once, it's 
sent in." 

I am so often at a loss for the connection 
in Mrs. Makely's ideas that I am more 
patient with her incoherent jargon than 
you will be, I am afraid. It went on to 
much the effect that I have tried to report, 
until the moment she took the hand of 
the guest who came next. They arrived, 
until there were eight of us in all ; Mrs. 
Strange coming last, with excuses for 
being late. I had somehow figured her 
as a person rather mystical and recluse in 
appearance, perhaps on account of her 
name, and I had imagined her tall and 
superb. But she was, really, rather small, 
though not below the woman's average, 
and she had a face more round than other- 
wise, with a sort of businesslike earnest- 
ness, but a very charming smile, and 
presently, as I saw, an American sense of 
humor. She had brown hair and gray 
eyes, and teeth not too regular to be 
monotonous ; her mouth was very sweet, 
whether she laughed, or sat gravely silent. 



She at once affected me like a person who 
had been sobered beyond her nature by 
responsibilities, and had steadily strength- 
ened under the experiences of life. She 
was dressed with a sort of personal taste, in 
a rich gown of black lace, which came up 
to her throat ; and she did not subject me 
to that embarrassment I always feel in the 
presence of a lady who is much decollete, 
when I sit next her, or face to face with 
her: I cannot always look at her without 
a sense of taking an immodest advant- 
age. Sometimes I find a kind of pathos 
in this sacrifice to fashion, as if the poor 
lady were wearing that sort of gown be- 
cause she thought she really ought, and 
then I keep my eyes firmly on hers, 
or avert them altogether ; but there are 
other cases which have not this appeal- 
ing quality. Yet in the very worst of 
the cases it would be a mistake to sup- 
pose that there was a display personally 
meant of the display personally made. 
Even then it would be found that the gown 
was worn so because the dressmaker had 
made it so, and, whether she had made it 
in this country or in Europe, that she had 
made it in compliance with a European 
custom. In fact, all the society customs 
of the Americans follow some European 
original, and usually some English orig- 
inal ; and it is only fair to say that in this 
particular custom they do not go to the 
English extreme. 

We did not go out to dinner at Mrs. 
Makely's by the rules of English prece 
dence, because there are nominally nt 
ranks here, and we could not ; but I am 
sure it will not be long before the Ameri- 
cans will begin playing at precedence just 
as they now play at the other forms of 
aristocratic society. For the present, 
however, there was nothing for us to do 
but to proceed, when dinner was served, 
in such order as offered itself, after Mr. 
Makely gave his arm to Mrs. Strange, 
though, of course, the white shoulders of 
the other ladies went gleaming out before 
the white shoulders of Mrs. Makely shone 
beside my black ones. I have now be- 
come so used to these observances that 
they no longer affect me as they once did, 
and as I suppose my account of them 
must affect you, painfully, comically. But 
I have always the sense of having a part 
in amateur theatricals, and I do not see 
how the Americans can fail to have the 



100 



DINNER, VER Y INFORMALL Y. 



same sense, for there is nothing spontane- 
ous in them, and nothing that has grown 
even dramatically out of their own life. 

Often when I admire the perfection of the 
mise en scene, it is with a vague feeling 
that I am derelict in not offering it an ex- 
plicit applause. In fact, this is permitted 
in some sort and measure, as now when 
we sat down at Mrs. Makely's exquisite 
table, and the ladies frankly recognized 
her touch in it. One of them found a 
phrase for it at once, and pronounced it a 
symphony in chrysanthemums ; for the 
color and the character of these flowers 
played through all the appointment of the 
table, and rose to a magnificent finale in 
the vast group in the middle of the board, 
infinite in their caprices of dye and design. 
Another lady said that, it was a dream, 
and then Mrs. Makely said: "No, a 
memory," and confessed that she had 
studied the effect from her recollection of 
some tables at a chrysanthemum show 
held here last year, which seemed failures 
because they were so simply and crudely 
adapted in the china and napery to merely 
one kind and color of the flower. 

"Then," she added, "I wanted to do 
something very chrysanthemummy, be- 
cause it seems to me the Thanksgiving 
flower, and belongs to Thanksgiving 
quite as much as holly belongs to Christ- 
mas." 

Everybody applauded her intention, 
and we hungrily fell to upon the excel- 
lent oysters, with her warning that we 
had better make the most of everything 
in its turn, for she had conformed her 
dinner to the brevity of the notice she 
had given her guests. 

Just what the dinner was I will try to 
tell you, for I think that it will interest 
you to know what people here think a 
very simple dinner. That is, people of 
any degree of fashion ; for the unfashion- 
able Americans, who are innumerably in 
the majority, have no more than the 
Altrurians seen such a dinner as Mrs. 
Makely's. This sort generally sit down 
to a single dish of meat, with two or three 
vegetables, and they drink tea or coffee, 
or water only, with their dinner. Even 
when they have company, as they say, 
the things are all put on the table at once; 
and the average of Americans who have 
seen a dinner served in courses, after the 
Russian manner, invariable in the fine 



world here, is not greater than those who 
have seen a serving-man in livery. Among 
these the host piles up his guest's plate 
with meat and vegetables, and it is 
passed from hand to hand till it reaches 
him ; his drink arrives from the hostess 
by the same means. One maid serves 
the table in a better class, and two maids 
in a class still better ; it is only when you 
reach people of very decided form that 
you find a man in a black coat behind 
your chair ; Mrs. Makely, mindful of the 
informality of her dinner in everything, 
had two men. 

I should say the difference between the 
Altrurians and the unfashionable Amer- 
icans, in view of such a dinner as she 
gave us, would be that, while it would 
seem to us abominable for its extrava- 
gance, and revolting in its appeals to ap- 
petite, it would seem to most of such 
Americans altogether admirable and en- 
viable, and would appeal to their ambition 
to give such a dinner themselves as soon 
as ever they could. 

Well, with our oysters, we had a deli- 
cate French wine, though I am told that 
formerly Spanish wines were served. A 
delicious soup followed the oysters, and 
then we had fish, with sliced cucumbers 
dressed with oil and vinegar, like a salad; 
and I suppose you will ask what we could 
possibly have eaten more. But this was 
only the beginning, and next there came 
a course of sweetbreads with green peas. 
With this the champagne began at once 
to rlow, for Mrs. Makely was nothing if 
not original, and she had champagne very 
promptly. One of the gentlemen praised 
her for it, and said you could not have it 
too soon, and he had secretly hoped it 
would have begun with the oysters. Next, 
we had a remove, a tenderloin of beef, 
with mushrooms, fresh, and not of the 
canned sort which it is usually accom- 
panied with. This fact won our hostess 
more compliments from the gentlemen, 
which could not have gratified her more 
if she had dressed and cooked the dish 
herself. She insisted upon our trying 
the stewed terrapin, for if it did come in 
a little by the neck and shoulders, it was 
still in place at a Thanksgiving dinner, 
because it was so American ; and the 
stuffed peppers, which, if they were not 
American, were at least Mexican, and 
originated in the kitchen of a sister repub- 



DINNER, VER Y INFORM ALL Y. 



101 



lie. There were one or two other side- 
dishes, and with all the burgundy began to 
be poured out. 

Mr. Makely said that claret all came 
now from California, no matter what 
French chateau they named it after, but 
burgundy you could not err in. His guests 
were now drinking the different wines, 
and to much the same effect, I should 
think, as if they had mixed them all 
in one cup ; though I ought to say that 
several of the ladies took no wine, and 
kept me in countenance after the first 
taste that I was obliged to take of each, in 
order to pacify my host. 

You must know that all the time there 
were plates of radishes, olives, celery, and 
roasted almonds set about that every one 
ate of without much reference to the 
courses. The talking and the feasting 
were at their height, but there was a little 
flagging of the appetite, perhaps, when 
it received the stimulus of a water-ice 
flavored with rum. After eating it, I 
immediately experienced an extraordi- 
nary revival of my hunger (I am ashamed 
to confess that I was gorging myself like 
the rest), but I quailed inwardly when 
one of the men-servants set down before 
Mr. Makely, a roast turkey that looked 
as large as an ostrich. It was received 
with cries of joy, and one of the gentle- 
men said, " Ah, Mrs. Makely, I was wait- 
ing to see how you would interpolate the 
turkey, but you never fail. I knew you 
would get it in somewhere. But where," 
he added in a burlesque whisper, behind 
his hand, " are the — " 

"Canvasback duck?" she asked, and 
at that moment the servant set before the 
anxious inquirer a platter of these re- 
nowned birds, which you know some- 
thing of already from the report our emis- 
saries have given of their cult among the 
Americans. 

Every one laughed, and after the gen- 
tleman had made a despairing flourish 
over them with a carving knife in emula- 
tion of Mr. Makely's emblematic attempt 
upon the turkey, both were taken away, 
and carved at a sideboard. They were 
then served in slices, the turkey with 
cranberry sauce, and the ducks with cur- 
rant jelly; and I noticed that no one took 
so much of the turkey that he could not 
suffer himself to be helped also to the 
duck. I must tell you that there was a 



salad with the duck, and after that there 
was an ice-cream, with fruit and all manner 
of candied fruits, and candies, different 
kinds of cheese, coffee, and liqueurs to 
drink after the coffee. 

" Well, now," Mrs. Makely proclaimed, 
in high delight with her triumph, "I 
must let you imagine the pumpkin pie. 
I meant to have it, because it isn't really 
Thanksgiving without it. But I could- 
n't, for the life of me, see where it would 
come in." 

This made them all laugh, and they 
began to talk about the genuine American 
character of the holiday, and what a fine 
thing it was to have something truly na- 
tional. They praised Mrs. Makely for 
thinking of so many American dishes, 
and the facetious gentleman said that she 
rendered no greater tribute than was due 
to the overruling Providence which had 
so abundantly bestowed them upon the 
Americans as a people. "You must have 
been glad, Mrs. Strange," he said, to the 
lady at my side, " to get back to our 
American oysters. There seems nothing 
else so potent to bring us home from 
Europe." 

"I'm afraid," she answered, "that I 
don't care so much for the American oys- 
ter as I should. But I am certainly glad 
to get back." 

" In time for the turkey, perhaps ? " 

" No, I care no more for the turkey 
than for the oyster of my native land," 
said the lady. 

"Ah, well, say the canvasback duck 
then. The canvasback duck is no alien. 
He is as thoroughly American as the 
turkey, or as any of us." 

"No, I should not have missed him, 
either," persisted the lady. 

"What could one have missed," the 
gentleman said, with a bow to the hostess, 
"in the dinner Mrs. Makely has given 
us ? If there had been nothing, I should 
not have missed it," and when the laugh 
at his drolling had subsided, he asked 
Mrs. Strange: "Then, if it is not too in- 
discreet, might I inquire what in the 
world has lured you again to our shores, 
if it was not the oyster, nor the turkey, 
nor yet the canvasback." 

" The American dinner-party," said the 
lady, with the same burlesque. 

"Well," he consented, " I think I un- 
derstand you- It is. different from th$ 



102 



DINNER, VER Y INFORM ALL Y. 



English dinner-party in being a festivity 
rather than a solemnity; though after all 
the American dinner is only a condition 
of the English dinner. Do you find us 
much changed, Mrs. Strange?" 

< ' I think we are every year a little 
more European," said the lady. "One 
notices it on getting home." 

" I supposed we were so European al- 
ready," returned the gentleman, " that a 
European landing among us would think 
he had got back to his starting point in a 
sort of vicious circle. I am myself so 
thoroughly Europeanized in all my feel- 
ings and instincts, that do you know, 
Mrs. Makely, if I may confess it without 
offence—" 

" Oh, by all means ! " cried the hostess. 

"When that vast bird which we have 
been praising, that colossal roast turkey, 
appeared, I felt a shudder go through my 
delicate substance, such as a refined Eng- 
lishman might have experienced at the 
sight, and I said to myself, quite as if I 
were not one of you, < Good heavens ! 
now they will begin talking through their 
noses and eating with their knives. It's 
what I might have expected ! ' " 

It was impossible not to feel that this 
gentleman was talking at me ; if the 
Americans have a foreign guest, they al- 
ways talk at him more or less ; and I was 
not surprised when he said, " I think our 
friend, Mr. Homos, will conceive my fine 
revolt from the crude period of our exist- 
ence which the roast turkey marks as dis- 
tinctly as the graffiti of the cave-dweller 
proclaim his epoch." 

" No," I protested, " I am afraid that I 
have not the documents for the interpre- 
tation of your emotion. I hope you will 
take pity on my ignorance, and tell me 
just what you mean." 

The others said they none of them 
knew either, and would like to know, and 
the gentleman began by saying that he 
had been going over the matter in his 
mind on his way to dinner, and he had 
really been trying to lead up to it ever since 
we sat down. "I've been struck, first of 
all, by the fact, in our evolution, that we 
haven't socially evolved from ourselves ; 
we've evolved from the Europeans, from 
the English. I don't think you'll find a 
single society rite with us now that had 
its origin in our peculiar national life, if 
we have a peculiar national life ; I doubt 



it, sometimes. If you begin with the 
earliest thing in the day, if you begin with 
breakfast, as society gives breakfasts, you 
have an English breakfast, though Amer- 
ican people and provisions." 

" I must say, I think they're both much 
nicer," said Mrs. Makely. 

"Ah, there I am with you ! We bor- 
row the form, but we infuse the spirit. 
I am talking about the form, though. 
Then, if you come to the society lunch, 
which is almost indistinguishable from 
the society breakfast, you have the Eng- 
lish lunch, which is really an undersized 
English dinner. The afternoon tea is 
English again, with its troops of eager 
females and stray, reluctant males; though 
I believe there are rather more men at the 
English teas, owing to the larger leisure 
class in England. The afternoon tea and 
the ' ' at home ' ' are as nearly alike as the 
breakfast and the lunch. Then, in the 
course of time, we arrive at the great so- 
ciety function, the dinner ; and what is 
the dinner with us but the dinner of our 
mother-country ? " 

" It is livelier," suggested Mrs. Makely, 
again. 

" Livelier, I grant you, but I am still 
speaking of the form, and not of the spirit. 
The evening reception, which is gradually 
fading away, as a separate rite, with its 
supper and its dance, we now have as 
the English have it, for the people who 
have not been asked to dinner. The ball, 
which brings us round to breakfast again, 
is again the ball of our Anglo-Saxon kin 
beyond the seas. In short, from the society 
point of view we are in everything their 
mere rinsings." 

"Nothing of the kind!" cried Mrs. 
Makely. " I won't let you say such a 
thing ! On Thanksgiving Day, too ! Why, 
there is the Thanksgiving dinner itself ! 
If that isn't purely American, I should 
like to know what is." 

" It is purely American, but it is strictly 
domestic ; it is not society. Nobody but 
some great soul like you, Mrs. Makely, 
would have the courage to ask any body 
to a Thanksgiving dinner, and even you 
ask only such easy-going house-iriends 
as we are proud to be. You wouldn't 
think of giving a dinner-party on Thanks- 
giving?" 

" No, I certainly shouldn't. I should 
think it was very presuming; and you are 

15 



DINNER, VERY INFORMALLY. 



103 



all as nice as you can be to have come to- 
day; I am not the only great soul at the 
table. But that is neither here nor there. 
Thanksgiving is a purely American thing, 
and it's more popular than ever. A few 
years ago you never heard of it outside 
of New England." 

The gentleman laughed. "You are 
perfectly right, Mrs. Makety, as you al- 
ways are. Thanksgiving is purely Amer- 
ican. So is the corn-husking, so is the 
apple-bee, so is the sugar-party, so is the 
spelling-match, so is the church-sociable; 
but none of these have had their evolution 
in our society entertainments. The New 
Year's call was also purely American, but 
that is now as extinct as the dodo, though 
I believe the other American festivities 
are still known in the rural districts." 

"Yes," said Mrs. Makely, " and I think 
it's a great shame that we can't have 
some of them in a refined form in society. 
I once went to a sugar-party up in New 
Hampshire, when I was a girl, and I never 
enjoyed myself so much in my life. I 
should like to make up a party to go to 
one somewhere in the Catskills, in March, 
Will you all go ? It would be something 
to show Mr. Homos. I should like to 
show him something really American be- 
fore he goes home. There's nothing 
American left in society ! ' ' 

"You forget the American woman," 
suggested the gentleman. < < She is always 
American, and she is always in society." 

"Yes," returned our hostess, with a 
thoughtful air, "you're quite right in 
that. One always meets more women 
than men in society. But it's because 
the men are so lazy, and so comfortable at 
their clubs, they won't go. They enjoy 
themselves well enough in society after 
they get there, as I tell my husband, 
when he grumbles over having to dress." 

"Well," said the gentleman, "a great 
many things, the day-time things, we 
really can't come to, because we don't be- 
long to the aristocratic class, as you ladies 
do, and we are busy down town. But I 
don't think we are reluctant about dinner; 
and the young fellows are nearly always 
willing to go to a ball, if the supper's 
good, and it's a house where they don't 
feel obliged to dance. But what do you 
think, Mr. Homos?" he asked. "How 
does your observation coincide with my 
experience ? " 



I answered that I hardly felt myself 
qualified to speak, for though I had as- 
sisted at the different kinds of society 
rites he had mentioned, thanks to the 
generous hospitality of my friends in New 
York, I only knew the English functions 
from a very brief stay in England on my 
way here, and from what I had read of 
them in English fiction, and in the rela- 
tions of our emissaries. He inquired into 
our emissary system, and the company 
appeared greatly interested in such ac- 
count of it as I could briefly give. 

" Well," he said, " that would do while 
3 T ou kept to yourselves ; but now that 
your country is opened to the plutocratic 
world, your public documents will be apt 
to come back to the countries your emis- 
saries have visited, and make trouble. 
The first thing you know some of our 
bright reporters will get onto one of your 
emissaries, and interview him, and then 
we shall get what you think of us at first 
hands. By the way, have you seen any 
of those primitive social delights which 
Mrs. Makely regrets so much ? " 

" I ? " our hostess protested. But, then, 
she perceived that he was joking, and she 
let me answer. 

I said that I had seen them nearly all, 
during the past year, in New England 
and in the West, but they appeared to 
me inalienably of the simpler life of the 
country, and that I was not surprised 
they should not have found an evolu- 
tion in the more artificial society of the 
cities. 

"I see," he returned, "that you re- 
serve 3^our opifiion of our more artificial 
society ; but you may be sure that our re- 
porters will get it out of you yet, before 
you leave us." 

" Those horrid reporters !" one of the 
ladies irrelevantly sighed. 

The gentleman resumed : "In the 
meantime, I don't mind saying how it 
strikes me. I think you are quite right 
about the indigenous American things be- 
ing adapted only to the simpler life of the 
country and the small towns. It is so 
everywhere. As soon as people become 
at all refined, they look down upon what 
is their own as something vulgar. But 
it is peculiarly so with us. We have 
nothing national that is not connected 
with the life of work, and when we begin 
to live the life of pleasure, we must bor- 



104 



DINNER, VER Y INFORM ALL Y. 



row from the people abroad, who have al- 
ways lived the life of pleasure." 

" Mr. Homos, you know," Mrs. Makely 
explained for me, as if this were the apt- 
est moment, "thinks we all ought to 
work. He thinks we oughtn't to have 
any servants." 

"Oh, no, dear lady," I put in. "I 
don't think that of you, as you are. None 
of you could see more plainly than I do, 
that in your conditions you must have 
servants, and that you cannot possibly 
work, unless poverty obliges you." 

The other ladies had turned upon me 
with surprise and horror at Mrs. Makely's 
words, but they now apparently relented, 
as if I had fully redeemed myself from 
the charge made against me. Mrs. 
Strange alone seemed _ to have found 
nothing monstrous in my supposed posi- 
tion. "Sometimes," she said, "I wish 
we had to work, all of us, and that we 
could be freed from our servile bondage 
to servants." 

Several of the ladies admitted that it 
was the greatest slavery in the world, and 
that it would be comparative luxury to do 
one's own work. But they all asked, in 
one form or another, what were they to 
do, and Mrs. Strange owned that she did 
not know. The facetious gentleman asked 
me how the ladies did in Altruria, and 
when I told them, as well as I could, they 
were, of course, very civil about it, but I 
could see that they all thought it impos- 
sible, or, if not impossible, then ridiculous. 
I did not feel bound to defend our cus- 
toms, and I knew very well that each 
woman there was imagining herself in 
our conditions with the curse of her pluto- 
cratic tradition still upon her. They could 
not do otherwise, any of them, and they 
seemed to get tired of such effort as they 
did make. 

Mrs. Makely rose, and the other ladies 
rose with her, for the Americans follow 
the English custom in letting the men re- 
main at table after the women have left. 
But on this occasion I found it varied, by 
a pretty touch from the French custom, 
and the men, instead of merely standing 
up while the women filed out, gave each 
his arm, as far as the drawing-room, to 
the lady he had brought in to dinner. 
Then we went back, and what is the 
pleasantest part of the dinner to most 
men began for us. 



I must say, to the credit of the Amer- 
icans, that although the eating and drink- 
ing among them appear gross enough to 
an Altrurian, you are not often revolted 
by the coarse stories which the English 
tell as soon as the ladies have left them. 
If it is a men's dinner, or more especially 
a men's supper, these stories are pretty 
sure to follow the coffee ; but when there 
have been women at the board, some 
sense of their presence seems to linger in 
the more delicate American nerves, and 
the indulgence is limited to two or three 
things off color, as the phrase is here, told 
with anxious glances at the drawing-room 
doors, to see if they are fast shut. 

I do not remember just what brought 
the talk back from these primrose paths, 
to that question of American society 
forms, but presently some one said he be- 
lieved the church sociable was the thing 
in most towns beyond the apple-bee and 
sugar-party stage, and this opened the in- 
quiry as to how far the church still 
formed the social life of the people in 
cities. Some one suggested that in Brook- 
lyn it formed it altogether, and then they 
laughed, for Brooklyn is always a joke 
with the New Yorkers ; I do not know 
exactly why, except that this vast city is 
so largely a suburb, and that it has a 
great number of churches, and is com- 
paratively cheap. Then another told 
of a lady who had come to New York 
(he admitted, twenty years ago,) and was 
very lonely, as she had no letters, until 
she joined a church. This at once brought 
her a general acquaintance, and she began 
to find herself in society ; but as soon as 
she did so, she joined a more exclusive 
church where they took no notice of 
strangers. They all laughed at that bit of 
human nature, as they called it, and they 
philosophized the relation of women to 
society as a purely business relation. The 
talk ranged to the mutable character of 
society, and how people got into it, and 
were of it, and how it was very different 
from what it once was, except that with 
women it was always business. They 
Spoke of certain new rich people with 
affected contempt ; but I could see that 
they were each proud of knowing such 
millionaires as they could claim for ac- 
quaintance, though they pretended to 
make fun of the number of men-ser- 
vants you had to run the gauntlet of in 



DINNER, VER Y IN FORM ALL Y. 



105 



their houses before you could get to your 
hostess. 

One of my commensals said he had no- 
ticed that I took little or no wine, and 
when I said that we seldom drank it in 
Altruria, he answered that he did not 
think I could make that go in America, 
if I meant to dine much. " Dining, you 
know, means overeating," he explained, 
" and if you wish to overeat, you must 
overdrink. I venture to say that you 
will pass a worse night than any of us, 
Mr. Homos, and that you will be sorrier 
to-morrow than I shall." They were all 
smoking, and I confess that their tobacco 
was .secretly such an affliction to me that 
I was at one moment in doubt whether I 
should take a cigar myself, or ask leave 
to join the ladies. 

The gentleman who had talked so much 
already said: " Well, I don't mind dining 
so much, especially with Makely, here, 
but I do object to supping, as I have to 
do now and then, in the way of pleasure. 
Last Saturday night I sat down at eleven 
o'clock to blue-point oysters, consomme 
soup, stewed terrapin — yours was very 
good, Makely; I wish I had taken more 
of it — lamb chops with peas, redhead 
duck with celery mayonnaise, Nesselrode 
pudding, fruit, cheese, and coffee, with 
sausages, caviare, radishes, celery, and 
olives interspersed wildly, and drinkables 
and smokables ad libitum; and I can as- 
sure you that I felt very devout when I 
woke up after churchtime in the morn- 
ing. It is this turning night into day 
that is killing us. We men, who have 
to go to business the next morning, ought 
to strike, and say we won't go to anything 
later than eight o'clock dinner." 

"Ah, then the women would insist 
upon our making it four o'clock tea," 
said another. 

Our host seemed to be reminded of 
something by the mention of the women, 
and he said, after a glance round at the 
state of the different cigars, "Shall we 
join the ladies ? " 

One of the men-servants had evidently 
been waiting for this question. He held 
the door open, and we all filed into the 
drawing-room. 

Mrs. Makely hailed me with, " Ah, Mr. 
Homos, I'm so glad you've come ! We 
poor women have been having the most 
dismal time !" 



"Honestly," asked the funny gentle- 
man, " don't you always, without us ? " 

"Yes, but this has been worse than 
usual. Mrs. Strange has been asking us 
how many people we supposed there were 
in this city, within five minutes' walk of 
us, who had no dinner to-day. Do you 
call that kind?" 

" A little more than kin, and less than 
kind, perhaps," the gentleman suggested. 
1 ' But what does she propose to do about 
it?" 

He turned toward Mrs. Strange, who 
answered, " Nothing. What does any 
one propose to do about it ? " 

" Then, why do you think about it? " 

"I don't. It thinks about itself. Do 
you know that poem of Longfellow's, 
1 The Challenge' ? " 

" No, I never heard of it." 

" Well, it begins in his sweet old 
way, about some Spanish king, who was 
killed before a city he was besieging, 
and one of his knights sallies out of 
the camp, and challenges the people of 
the city, the living and the dead, as trai- 
tors. Then the poet breaks off, apropos 
de rien: 

' There is a greater army 

That besets us rouud with strife, 
A numberless, starving army, 

At all the gates of life. 
The poverty-stricken millions 

Who challenge our wine and bread. 
And impeach us all for traitors, 

Both the living and the dead. 
And whenever I sit at the banquet, 

Where the feast and song are high, 
Amid the mirth and the music 

I can hear that fearful cr3'. 
And hollow and haggard faces 

I v ook into the lighted hall, 
And wasted hands are extended 

To catch the crumbs that fall. 
For within there is light and plenty, 

And odors fill the air ; 
But without there is cold and darkness, 

And hunger and despair. 
And there, in the camp of famine, 

In wind and cold and rain, 
Christ, the great Lord of the Army, 

L,ies dead upon the plain.' " 

"Ah," said the facetious gentleman, 
" that is fine ! We really forget how fine 
Longfellow was. It is so pleasant to hear 
you quoting poetry, Mrs. Strange. That 
sort of thing has almost gone out ; and 
it's a pity." 

A. Homos. 



106 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



By W. D. Howells. 



THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



IX. 



New York, December 15, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

In answer to the inquiry in your last let- 
ter concerning the large shops here, I can- 
not say they are very attractive, and as I 
have told you, they are not so many as we 
have been led to suppose. There are, per- 
haps, fifty, at most, on Broadway and the 
different avenues. They are vast empori- 
ums, sometimes occupying half a city- 
block, and multiplying their acreage of 
floor space by repeated stories, one above 
another, reached by elevators perpetually 
lifting and lowering the throngs of shop- 
pers. But I do not find any principle of 
taste governing the arrangement of their 
multitudinous wares ; and they have al- 
ways a huddled and confused effect. I 
miss the precious and human quality of 
individuality in them. I meet no one who 
seems to have a personal interest in the 
goods or the customers ; it is a dry and 
cold exchange of moneys and wares ; and 
the process is made the more tedious by 
the checks used to keep the salesmen and 
saleswomen from robbing their employers. 
They take your money, but it must be sent 
with their written account and your pur- 
chase to a central bureau, where the ac- 
count is audited and returned with your 
purchase, after a vexatious delay. But 
in the system of things here, fully a fifth 
of the people seem employed in watching 
that the rest do not steal, and fully a fifth 
of the time is lost. 

You have perhaps imagined these great 
stores like our Regionic bazaars, where we 
go with our government orders to supply 
our needs, or indulge our fancies. But 
they are not at all like these, except in 
their vastness and variety. I cannot say 
that there is no aim at beauty in their 
display, but the sordid motive of adver- 
tising running through it all destroys 
this. You are not pressed to buy, here, 
any more than with us, and the salespeo- 



ple are not allowed to misrepresent the 
quality of the goods, for that would be 
bad business; but the affair is a purely 
business transaction. That friendly hos- 
pitality which our bazaars show all coiners, 
and that cordial endeavor to seek out and 
satisfy their desires are wholly unknown 
here. What you experience is the work- 
ing of a vast, very intricate, and rather 
clumsy money -making machine, with 
yourself as a part of the mechanism. 

For this reason I prefer the smaller 
shops where I can enter into some human 
relation with the merchant, if it is only 
for the moment. I have already tried 
to give you some notion of the multitude 
of these ; and 1 must say now that they 
add much -in their infinite number and 
variety to such effect of gaiety as the 
city has. They are especially attractive at 
night, where, under favor of the prevail- 
ing dark, the shapeless monster is able 
to hide something of its deformity. Then 
the brilliant lamps, with the shadows 
they cast, unite to an effect of gaiety 
which the day will not allow. 

The great stores contribute nothing to 
this, however, for they all close at six 
o'clock in the evening. On the other 
hand, they do not mar such poor beauty as 
the place has with the multitude of signs 
that the minor traffic renders itself so of- 
fensive with. One sign, rather simple and 
unostentatious, suffices for a large store; a 
little store will want half a dozen, and will 
have them painted and hung all over its 
facade, and stood about in front of it as 
obtrusively as the police will permit. The 
effect is bizarre and grotesque beyond ex- 
pression. If one thing in the business 
streets makes New York more hideous 
than another it is the signs, with their 
discordant colors, their infinite variety of 
tasteless shapes. If by chance there is 
any architectural beauty in a business 
edifice, it is spoiled, insulted, outraged by 
these huckstering appeals ; while the pre- 
vailing unsightliness is emphasized and 






THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



107 



heightened by them. A vast, hulking, 
bare brick wall, rising six or seven stories 
above the neighboring buildings, you 
would think bad enough in all con- 
science : how, then, shall I give you any 
notion of the horror it becomes when its 
unlovely space is blocked out in a ground 
of white with a sign painted on it in black 
letters ten feet high ? 

But you could not imagine the least 
offensive of the signs that deface Ameri- 
can cities, where they seem trying to 
shout and shriek each other down, wher- 
ever one turns ; they cover the fronts and 
sides and tops of the edifices ; they de- 
face the rocks of the meadows and the 
cliffs of the rivers ; they stretch on long 
extents of fencing in the vacant subur- 
ban lands, and cover the roofs and sides 
of the barns. The darkness does not 
shield you from them, and by night the 
very sky is starred with the electric bulbs 
that spell out, on the roofs of the lofty city 
edifices, the frantic announcement of this 
or that business enterprise. 

The strangest part of all this is, no one 
finds it offensive, or at least no one says 
that it is offensive. It is, indeed, a neces- 
sary phase of the economic warfare in 
which this people live, for the most as un- 
consciously as people lived in feudal cities, 
while the nobles fought out their private 
quarrels in the midst of them. No one 
dares relax his vigilance or his activity 
in the commercial strife, and in the ab- 
sence of any public opinion, or any pub- 
lic sentiment concerning them, it seems 
as if the signs might eventually hide the 
city. That would not be so bad if some- 
thing could then be done to hide the signs. 

Nothing seems so characteristic of this 
city, after its architectural shapelessness, 
as the eating and drinking constantly 
going on in it. I do not mean, now, 
the eating and drinking in society alone, 
though from the fact that some sort of 
repast is made the occasion of nearly 
every social meeting, you might well sup- 
pose that society was altogether, devoted 
to eating and drinking, and that this 
phase of the feasting might altogether 
occupy one. But I was thinking of the 
restaurants and hotels, of every kind 
and quality, and the innumerable sa- 
loons and bars. There may not be really 
more of them in New York, in propor- 
tion to the population than in other 



great plutocratic cities, but there are ap- 
parently more ; for in this, as in all her 
other characteristics, New York is very 
open ; her virtues and her vices, her lux- 
ury and her misery, are in plain sight, so 
that no one can fail of them ; and I fancy 
that a famishing man must suffer pecu- 
liarly here from the spectacle of people 
everywhere visible at sumptuous tables. 

Many of the finest hotels, if not most 
of them, have their dining-rooms on the 
level of the street, and the windows, 
whether curtained or uncurtained, reveal 
the continual riot within. I confess that 
the effect upon some hungry passer is al- 
ways so present to my imagination that I 
shun the places near the windows ; but 
the Americans are so used to the perpet- 
ual encounter of famine and of surfeit in 
their civilization, that they do not seem 
to mind it ; and one of them very logi- 
cally made me observe when he conceived 
my reluctance, that I was not relieving 
anybody's want when I chose an uncom- 
fortable place on the dark side of the 
room. It was, indeed, an instance of the 
unavailing self-denial so frequent here. 
Still, I prefer either the restaurants in the 
basements or on the second floor ; and 
these are without number, too, though 
I do not think they are so many as the 
others ; at least they do not make as 
much effect. But of every sort, as I say, 
there is an immense variety, because New 
York is so largely a city of strangers, 
whose pleasures or affairs call them here 
by whole populations. Every day the 
trains and boats fetch and carry hundreds 
of thousands of visitors, who must be 
somehow housed and fed, and who find 
shelter in the hotels, and food wherever 
they happen to be at the moment of lunch 
or dinner. 

But the restaurants have to cater be- 
sides to the far vaster custom of the bus- 
iness men who live at such a distance 
from their shops and offices that they 
never take the midday meal with their 
families except on Sunday. So far they 
are like the workingmen, whom you. see 
seated on piles of rubbish in the street, 
with their dinner-pails between their 
knees ; but I need not tell you that the 
business men are not so simple or so spar- 
ing in the satisfaction of their hunger. I 
am not sure that they are always much 
more comfortable ; and in fine weather I 

23 



108 



THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



think I would rather sit out doors on a 
heap of brick or lumber than on a brack- 
eted stool-top before a lunch - counter 
amidst a turmoil of crockery and cookery 
that I should in vain try to give you a 
sense of. These lunch-counters abound 
everywhere, and thousands throng them 
every day, snatching the meat and drink 
pushed across the counter to them by the 
waiters from the semi-circle within, and 
then making room for others. But of late, 
a new kind of lunch-room has come into 
fashion, which I wish you could see, both 
for the sake of the curious spectacle it 
affords, and the philosophy it involves. 
You would find yourself in a long room, if 
you came with me, where you would see 
rows of large chairs, each with one arm 
made wide enough to hold a cup and sau- 
cer, and a plate. At a convenient place in 
the room is a counter or table, with cups 
for tea and coffee set out on it, and plates 
of pie, sandwiches, and such viands as 
need not be cut with a knife, and may be 
gathered up in the fingers. Each comer 
goes up to the counter, and takes from it 
what he likes and carries it off to some 
chair, where he eats his lunch in peace, 
and then goes back to the counter and paj'S 
for it. His word is implicitly taken as to 
what he has had ; he goes as he came, 
without question ; and the host finds his 
account in the transaction ; for even if he 
is now and then cheated, he saves the cost 
of a troop of waiters by letting his guests 
serve themselves, and he is able for the 
same reason to afford his provisions at 
half the price they must pay elsewhere. 
His experience is that he is almost never 
cheated, and the Altrurian theory of 
human nature, that if you will use men 
fairly and trust them courageously, they 
will not betray you, finds practical en- 
dorsement in it. 

Most of the better class of clerks and 
small business men frequent the chop- 
houses, which affect the back rooms of 
old - fashioned dwellings, and the base- 
ment restaurants in the cellarways of 
business buildings, down town. Some of 
the lofty edifices which deform that quar- 
ter of the city have restaurants in them 
on a grand scale, as to prices and fare, 
and all the appointments of the table ; 
these are for a still better sort of lunch- 
ers, or richer sort (you always say better 
when you mean richer, in America), and 



these often have lunch clubs, of difficult 
membership, and with rooms luxuriously 
appointed, where, if they choose, people 
can linger over their claret and cigars as 
quietly as if they were in their own houses. 
Sometimes a whole house is fitted up with 
all the comforts of a club, which is fre- 
quented by its members, or the greater 
part of them, only for luncheon. Others, 
of the kind which form effectively the 
home of their members, are resorted to at 
midday by all who do business within 
easy reach of them ; though the break- 
fasting and dining goes on there, too, day 
in and day out, as constantly as at pri- 
vate houses. In fact, the chief use of the 
clubs is through their excellent kitchens. 

There are foreign restaurants in all 
parts of the town, — French, German, Ital- 
ian, Spanish, — where you can have your 
lunch served in courses at a fixed sum 
for the whole. The Hebrews, who are so 
large and so prosperous an element of the 
commercial body of New York, have res- 
taurants of this sort, where they incur no 
peril of pork, or meat of any kind that is 
not kosher. Signs in Hebrew give them 
warrant of the fact that nothing unclean, 
or that has been rendered unlawful by 
hanging from a nail, is served within ; 
and the Christian, if he sits down at a 
table, is warned that he can have neither 
milk nor butter with his meat, since this 
is against their ancient and most whole- 
some law. 

Far round on the East side, and in all 
the poorer quarters of the town, there are 
eating-houses and cook-shops of lower 
and lower grade, which are resorted to by 
those workingmen who do not bring their 
dinners with them in pails, or who would 
rather take their drink and their food to- 
gether. But these are seldom the older- 
fashioned laborers, of Irish or American 
descent ; the frequenters of such places 
are Germans or Italians, or of the newer 
immigrations from eastern Europe, who 
find there some suggestions of their na- 
tional dishes, and some touch of art in 
the cookery, no matter how common and 
vile the material. This, as you see it 
in the butcher-shops and the greengro- 
cers of those parts, is often revolting 
and unwholesome enough — pieces of 
loathsome carnage, and bits of deca}nng 
vegetation. It is to be supposed that 
the poorer restaurants supply themselves 



THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



109 



from the superfluity of the better sort 
and of the hotels, but this is not always 
the case. In many cases, the hotels cast 
this into the great heap of offal, which 
the garbage carts of the city dump into 
the vessels used to carry it out to sea, so 
that not even the swine may eat of it, 
much less the thousands of hungering 
men and women and children, who never 
know what it is to have quite enough. But 
this is only one phase of the wilful waste 
that in manifold ways makes such woeful 
want in plutocratic conditions. Every 
comfortable family in this city throws 
away at every meal the sustenance of 
some other famity; or, if not that then, so 
much at least as would keep it from star- 
vation. The predatory instinct is very 
subtle, and people who live upon each 
other, instead of for each other, have 
shrewdly contrived profit within profit 
until it is hard to say whether many 
things you consume have any value in 
themselves at all. If they could be 
brought at once to the consumer they 
would cost infinitely little, almost noth- 
ing; but they reach him only after half 
a dozen sterile agencies have had their 
usury of them ; and then they are most 
wonderfully, most wickedly wasted in 
the system of each household having its 
own black, nois}^, unwholesome kitchen, 
with a cook in it chiefly skilled to spoil 
God's gifts. 

From time to time, there is great talk 
in the newspapers of abolishing the mid- 
dlemen, as the successive hucksters are 
called ; but there is no way of doing this, 
short of abolishing the whole plutocratic 
system, for the middleman is the business 
man, and the business man is the corner- 
stone of this civilization ; if, indeed, a 
civilization which seems poised in air by 
studying the trick of holding itself from 
the ground by the waistband, can be said 
to have any foundation whatever. 

There is not so much hope of the mid- 
dleman's going as there isof the individual 
kitchen's, which really seems threatened, 
at times, by the different new ways of liv- 
ing which Mrs. Makely, you remember, 
told me of. It is, in fact, a survival of the 
simpler time when the housewife prepared 
the food of her family herself ; but that 
time is long past, with the well-to-do 
Americans, and what was once the focal 
center of the home, has no longer any 



just place in it, and only forms the great 
rent through which half the husband's 
earnings escape. Yet, if I tell them of our 
cooperative housekeeping, they make the 
answer which they seem to think serves 
all occasions, and say that such a system 
will do very well for Altruria, but that 
it is contrary to human nature, and it can 
never be made to work in America. They 
much prefer to go on wasting into the 
kitchen, and wasting out of it ; the house- 
wife either absolutely neglects her dut\ T , 
or else she maddens herself with the care 
of it, and harries the poor drudge who 
slaves her life away in its heat and glare, 
and fails, with all her toil, of results 
which we have for a tithe of the cost and 
suffering. 

But whenever I touch one of the points 
of economic contrast with ourselves, I feel 
as if I were giving it undue importance, 
for I think at once of a hundred others 
which seem to prove as conclusively 
that, as yet, the life of the Americans, in 
what most nearly concerns them, is not 
reasoned. They are where they are be- 
cause some one else had arrived there be- 
fore them, and they do most of the things 
that they do because the English do some- 
thing like them. In a wholly different 
climate, a climate which touches both arc- 
tic and tropic extremes, they go on living 
as their ancestors lived in the equable 
seasons of the British Isles. They have 
not yet philosophized their food, or dress, 
or shelter, for their blazing summers, and 
swelter through them with such means 
of comfort as the ignorant usage of the 
mother-country provides. 

In fact, the Americans have completed 
their reductio ad absurdum in pleasure as 
well as in business. Eating and drinking 
no longer suffice to bring people together, 
and the ladies say that if you want any 
one to come now, you must have some- 
thing special to entertain your guests. 
You must have somebody sing, or recite, 
or play; I believe it has not yet come to a 
demand for hired dancing, as it presently 
will, if it does in London. Only very 
primitive people would now think of giv- 
ing an afternoon tea without some spe- 
cial feature, though the at-homes still 
flourish, as a means of paying off the 
debts ladies owe one another for visits. 
Luncheons and dinners are given with a 
frequency that would imply the greatest 



no 



THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



financial prosperity, and the gayest social 
feeling as well as unlimited leisure, and 
unbounded hospitality. But these must 
always have some raison d'etre, such as 
we do not dream of offering, who in our 
simplicity think it reason enough to ask 
our friends to join us at meat if we wish 
for their company. Here, apparently, no 
one wishes for your company personally, 
the individual is as completely lost in the 
social as he is in the economic scheme. 
You are invited as a factor in the problem 
which your hostess wishes to work out, 
and you are invited many da}'S in advance, 
and sometimes several weeks; for every 
one is supposed to be in great request, 
and it is thought to be a sort of slight to 
bid a guest for any entertainment under a 
week, so that people excuse themselves 
for doing it. 

Our fashion of offering hospitality on 
the impulse, would be as strange here 
as offering it without some special in- 
ducement for its acceptance. The in- 
ducement is, as often as can be, a celeb- 
rity or eccentricity of some sort, or some 
visiting foreigner; and I suppose that I 
have been a good deal used myself in one 
quality or the other. But when the thing 
has been done, fully and guardedly at all 
points, it does not seem to have been done 
for pleasure, either by the host or the 
guest. The dinner is given in payment 
of another dinner; or out of ambition by 
people who are striving to get forward 
in society; or by great social figures who 
give regularly a certain number of dinners 
every season. In either case it is eaten 
from motives at once as impersonal and 
as selfish. I do not mean to say that I 
have not been at many dinners where I 
felt nothing perfunctory either in host 
or guest, and where as sweet and gay a 
Spirit ruled as at any of our own simple 
feasts. Still, I think your main impres- 
sion of American hospitality would be 
that it was thoroughly infused with the 
plutocratic principle, and that it meant 
business. 

I am speaking now of the hospitality 
of society people, who number, after all, 
but a few thousands out of the many 
millions of American people. These mill- 
ions are so far from being in society, even 
when they are very comfortable, and on 
the way to great prosperity, if they are 
not already greatly prosperous, that if 



they were suddenly confronted with the 
best society of the great eastern cities 
they would find it almost as strange as 
so many Altrurians. A great part of 
them have no conception of entertaining 
except upon an Altrurian scale of sim- 
plicity, and they know nothing and care 
less for the forms that society people value 
themselves upon. Where they begin in 
the ascent of the social scale to adopt 
forms, it is still to wear them lightly and 
with an individual freedom and indiffer- 
ence; it is long before anxiety concerning 
the social law renders them vulgar. 

Yet from highest to lowest, from first 
to last, one invariable fact characterizes 
them all, and it may be laid down as an 
axiom that in a plutocracy the man who 
needs a dinner, is the man who is never 
asked to dine. I do not say that he is 
not given a dinner. He is very often 
given a dinner, and for the most part he 
is kept from starving to death; but he is 
not suffered to sit at meat with his host, 
if the person who gives him a meal can 
be called his host. His need of the meal 
stamps him with a hopeless inferiority, 
and relegates him morally to the company 
of the swine at their husks, and of Laza- 
rus whose sores the dogs licked. Usually, 
of course, he is not physically of such a 
presence as to fit him for any place in 
good society short of Abraham's bosom; 
but even if he were entirely decent, or of 
an inoffensive shabbiness, it would not be 
possible for his benefactor, in any grade 
of society, to ask him to his table. He is 
sometimes fed in the kitchen; where the 
people of the house feed in the kitchen 
themselves, he is fed at the back door. 

We were talking of this the other night 
at the house of that lady whom Mrs. 
Makely invited me specially to meet on 
Thanksgiving Day. It happened then, as 
it often happens here, that although I was 
asked to meet her, I saw very little of 
her. It was not so bad as it sometimes is, 
for I have been asked to meet people, very 
informally, and passed the whole even- 
ing with them, and yet not exchanged a 
word with them. Mrs. Makely really gave 
me a seat next Mrs. Strange at table, and 
we had some unimportant conversation ; 
but there was a lively little creature 
vis-a-vis of me, who had a fancy of ad- 
dressing me so much of her talk, that my 
acquaintance with Mrs. Strange rather 



THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



Ill 



languished through the dinner, and she 
went away so soon after the men rejoined 
the ladies in the drawing-room, that I did 
not speak to her there. I was rather sur- 
prised, then, to receive a note from her a 
few days later, asking me to dinner ; and 
I finally went, I am ashamed to own, 
more from curiosity than from any other 
motive. I had been, in the meantime, 
thoroughly coached concerning her, by 
Mrs. Makely, whom I told of my invita- 
tion, and who said, quite frankly, that 
she wished Mrs. Strange had asked her, 
too. " But Eveleth Strange wouldn't do 
that," she explained, "because it would 
have the effect of paying me back. I'm 
so glad, on your account, that you're go- 
ing, for I do want you to know at least 
one American woman that you can unre- 
servedly approve of; I know you don't 
begin to approve of vie ; and I was so 
vexed that you really had no chance to 
talk with her that night you met her 
here ; it seemed to me as if she ran away 
early, just to provoke me ; and, to tell you 
the truth, I thought she had taken a dis- 
like to you. I wish I could tell you just 
what sort of a person she is, but it would 
be perfectly hopeless, for you haven't got 
the documents, and you never could get 
them. I used to be at school with her, 
and even then she wasn't like any of the 
other girls. She was always so original, 
and did things from such a high motive, 
that afterwards, when we were all settled, 
I was perfectly thunderstruck at her mar- 
rying old Bellington Strange, who was 
twice her age, and had nothing but his 
money ; he was not related to the New 
York Bellingtons at all, and nobody 
knows how he got the name ; nobody 
ever heard of the Stranges. In fact, peo- 
ple said that he used to be plain Peter B. 
Strange, till he married Eveleth, and she 
made him drop the Peter, and blossom 
out in the Bellington, so that he could 
seem to have a social as well as a finan- 
cial history. People who disliked her in- 
sisted that they were not in the least sur- 
prised at her marrying him ; that the 
high-motive business was just her pose ; 
and that she had simply got sick of be- 
ing a teacher in a girls' school, and had 
jumped at the chance of getting him. 
But I always stuck up for her, — and I 
know that she did it for the sake of her 
family, who were all as poor as poor, and 



were dependent on her after her father 
went to smash in his business. She was 
always as high-strung and as romantic as 
she could be, but I don't believe that even 
then she would have taken Mr. Strange, 
if there had been anybody else. I don't 
suppose any one else ever looked at her, 
for the young men are pretty sharp now- 
adays, and are not going to marry girls 
without a cent, when there are so many 
rich girls, just as charming every way : 
you can't expect them to. At any rate, 
whatever her motive was, she had her re- 
ward, for Mr. Strange died within a year 
of their marriage, and she got all his 
money. There was no attempt to break 
the will, for Mr. Strange seemed to be lit- 
erally of no family; andshe'slived quietly 
on in the house he bought her, ever since, 
except when she's in Europe, and that's 
about two-thirds of the time. She has 
her mother with her, and I suppose that 
her sisters, and her cousins, and her 
aunts, come in for outdoor aid. She's 
always helping somebody. They say 
that's her pose, now ; but if it is, I don't 
think it's a bad one ; and certainly if she 
wanted to get married again, there would 
be no trouble, with her three millions. I 
advise you to go to her dinner, by all 
means, Mr. Homos. It will be something 
worth while, in every way, and perhaps 
you'll convert her to Altrurianism ; she's 
as hopeful a subject as / know." 

I was one of the earliest of her guests, 
for I cannot yet believe that people do 
not want me to come exactly when they 
say they do. I perceived, however, that 
one other gentleman had come before me, 
and I was both surprised and delighted 
to find that this was my acquaintance, 
Mr. Bullion, the Boston banker. He 
professed as much pleasure at our meet- 
ing as I certainly felt ; but after a few 
words he went on talking with Mrs. 
Strange, while I was left to her mother, 
an elderly woman of quiet and even 
timid bearing, who affected me at once 
as born and bred in a wholly different 
environment. In fact, every American 
of the former generation is almost as 
strange to it in tradition, though not in 
principle, as I am; and I found myself 
singularly at home with this sweet lady, 
who seemed glad of my interest in her. I 
was taken from her side to be introduced 
to a lady, on the opposite side of the room, 



112 



THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



who said she had been promised my ac- 
quaintance by a friend of hers, whom I 
had met in the mountains, — Mr. Twelve- 
mough; did I remember him? She gave a 
little cry while still speaking, and dramat- 
ically stretched her hand toward a gen- 
tleman who entered at the moment, and 
whom I saw to be no other than Mr. 
Twelvemough himself. As soon as he 
had greeted our hostess he hastened up 
to us, and barely giving himself time to 
press the still outstretched hand of my 
companion, shook mine warmly, and ex- 
pressed the greatest joy at seeing me. He 
said that he had just got back to town, 
in a manner, and had not known I was 
here, till Mrs. Strange had asked him to 
meet me. There were not a great many 
other guests, when they all arrived, and 
we sat down, a party not much larger than 
at Mrs. Makely's. " 

I found that I was again to take out 
my hostess, but I was put next the lady 
with whom I had been talking ; she had 
come without her husband, who was, ap- 
parently, of a different social taste from 
herself, and had an engagement of his 
own; there was an artist and his wife 
whose looks I liked; some others whom I 
need not specify, were there, I fancied, be- 
cause they had heard of Altruria, and were 
curious to see me. As Mr. Twelvemough 
sat quite at the other end of the table, 
the lady on my right could easily ask me 
whether I liked his books. She said, ten- 
tatively, people liked them because they 
felt sure when they took up one of his 
novels they had not got hold of a tract on 
political economy in disguise. 

It was this complimentary close of a re- 
mark which scarcely began with praise, 
that made itself heard across the table, 
and was echoed with a heartfelt sigh from 
the lips of another lady. 

"Yes," she said, "that is what I find 
such a comfort in Mr. Twelvemough' s 
books." 

" We were speaking of Mr. Twelve- 
mough's books," triumphed the first 
lady, and then several began to extol 
them for being fiction pure and simple, 
and not dealing with any question but 
the loves of young people. 

Mr. Twelvemough sat looking as mod- 
est as he could under the praise, and one 
of the ladies said that in a novel she had 
lately read there was a description of a 



surgical operation, that made her feel as 
if she had been present at a clinic. Then 
the author said that he had read that pas- 
sage, too, and found it extremely well done. 
It was fascinating, but it was not art. 

The painter asked, "Why was it not 
art?" 

The author answered, " Well, if such a 
thing as that was art, then anything that 
a man chose to do in a work of imagina- 
tion was art." 

"Precisely," said the painter, "art is 
choice." 

" On that ground," the banker inter- 
posed, " you could say that political econ- 
omy was a fit subject for art, if an artist 
chose to treat it." 

"It would have its difficulties," the 
painter admitted, "but there are certain 
phases of political economy, dramatic 
moments, human moments, which might 
be very fitly treated in art. For instance, 
who would object to Mr. Twelvemough' s 
describing an eviction from an East side 
tenement-house on a cold winter night, 
with the mother and her children huddled 
about the fire the father had kindled with 
pieces of the household furniture? " 

"/should object very much, for one," 
said the lady who had objected to the ac- 
count of the surgical operation. " It 
would be too creepy. Art should give 
pleasure." 

' ' Then you think a tragedy is not art?" 
asked the painter. 

" I think that these harrowing subjects 
are brought in altogether too much," said 
the lady. " There are enough of them in 
real life, without filling all the novels 
with them. It's terrible the number of 
beggars you meet on the street, this win- 
ter. Do you want to meet them in Mr. 
Twelvemough' s novels, too ? " 

" Well, it wouldn't cost me an}' money, 
there. I shouldn't have to give." 

" You oughtn't to give money in real 
life," said the lady. " You ought to give 
charity tickets. If the beggars refuse 
them, it shows they are imposters." 

" It's some comfort to know that the 
charities are so active," said the elderly 
young lady, " even if half the letters one 
gets do turn out to be appeals from them. ' ' 

" It's ver3' r disappointing to have them 
do it, though," said the artist, lightly. 
" I thought there was a society to abolish 
poverty. That doesn't seem to be so ac- 



THE SELLING AND THE GIVING OF DINNERS. 



113 



tive as the charities this winter. Is it 
possible they've found it a failure ? " 

"Well," said Mr. Bullion, "perhaps 
they have suspended during the hard 
times." 

They tossed the ball back and forth with 
a lightness the Americans have, and I 
could not have believed, if I had not 
known how hardened people become to 
such things here, that they were almost 
in the actual presence of hunger and cold. 
It was within five minutes' walk of their 
warmth and surfeit ; and if they had 
lifted the window and called, " Who goes 
there ? ' ' the houselessness that prowls 
the night, could have answered them from 
the street below, " Despair ! " 

"I had an amusing experience," Mr. 
Twelvemough began, " when I was doing 
a little visiting for the charities in our 
ward, the other winter." 

' ' For the sake of the literary material ? ' ' 
suggested the artist. 

" Partly for the sake of the literary ma- 
terial ; you know we have to look for our 
own everywhere. But we had a case of 
an old actor's son, who had got out of all 
the places he had filled, on account of 
rheumatism, and could not go to sea, or 
drive a truck, or even wrap gas-fixtures 
in paper any more." 

"A checkered employ," the banker 
mused aloud. 

" It was not of a simultaneous nature," 
the novelist explained. " So he came on 
the charities, and as I knew the theatrical 
profession a little, and how generous it 
was with all related to it, I said that I 
would undertake to look after his case. 
You know the theory is that we get work 
for our patients, or clients, or whatever 
they are, and I went to a manager whom 
I knew to be a good fellow, and I asked 
him for some sort of work. He said, Yes, 
send the man round, and he would give 
him a job copying parts for a new play he 
had written." 

The novelist paused, and nobody 
laughed. 

[To be concluded in 



" It seems to me that your experience 
is instructive, rather than amusing," said 
the banker. "It shows that something 
can be done, if you try." 

"Well," said Mr. Twelvemough, "I 
thought that was the moral, myself, till 
the fellow came afterwards to thank me. 
He said that he considered himself very 
lucky, for the manager had told him that 
there were six other men had wanted that 
job." 

Everybody laughed, now, and I looked 
at my hostess in a little bewilderment. 
She murmured, "I suppose the joke is 
that he had befriended one man at the 
expense of six others." 

" Oh," I returned, "is that a joke?" 

No one answered, but the lady at my 
right asked: " How do you manage with 
poverty in Altruria ? " 

I saw the banker fix a laughing eye on 
me, but I answered, "In Altruria we have 
no poverty." 

"Ah, I knew you would say that!" 
he cried out. "That's what he always 
does," he explained to the lady. "Bring 
up any one of our little difficulties, and 
ask how they get over it in Altruria, and 
he says they have nothing like it. It's 
very simple." 

They all began to ask me questions, 
but with a courteous incredulity, which I 
could feel well enough, and some of my 
answers made them laugh, all but my 
hostess, who received them with a grav- 
ity that finally prevailed. But I was not 
disposed to go on talking of Altruria 
then, though they all protested a real in- 
terest, and murmured against the hard- 
ship of being cut off with so brief an ac- 
count of our country as I had given 
them. 

"Well," said the banker at last, "if 
there is no cure for our poverty, we might 
as well go on and enjoy ourselves." 

"Yes," said our hostess, with a sad 
little smile, " we might as well enjoy our- 
selves." 

A. Homos. 

the September issue.] 



114 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



By W. D. Howells 



AN ALTRUISTIC PLUTOCRAT. 



New York, December i6, 1893. 
My dear Cyril : 

The talk at Mrs. Strange' s table took a 
far wider range than my meager notes 
would intimate, and we sat so 1 g that it 
was almost eleven before the men joined 
the ladies in the drawing-room. You will 
hardly conceive of. remaining two, three, 
or four hours at dinner, as one often does 
here, in society. Out of society, the meals 
are dispatched with a rapid : ty unknown 
to the Altrurians. Our habit of listening 
to the lectors, especially at the evening 
repast, and then of reasoning upon what 
we have heard, prolongs our stay at the 
board ; but the fondest listener, the great- 
est talker among us, would be impatient 
of the delay eked out here by the great 
number, and the slow procession of the 
courses served. Yet the poorest American 
would find his ideal realized rather in the 
long-drawn-out gluttony of the society 
dinner here, than in our temperate sim- 
plicity. 

At such a dinner it is very hard to avoid 
a surfeit, and I have to guard myself very 
carefully, lest, in the excitement of the 
talk, I gorge myself with everything, in 
its turn. Even at the best, my overloaded 
stomach often joins with my conscience 
in reproaching me for what you would 
think a shameful excess at table. Yet, 
wicked as my riot is, my waste is worse, 
and I have to think with contrition, not 
only of what I have eaten, but of what I 
have left uneaten, in a city where so many 
wake and sleep in hunger. 

The ladies made a show of lingering, 
after we joined them in the drawing-room; 
but there were furtive glances at the 
clock, and presently her guests began to 
bid Mrs. Strange good-night. When I 
came up, and offered her my hand, she 
would not take it, but murmured, with a 
kind of passion : "Don't go! I mean it ! 
Stay, and tell us about Altruria, — my 
mother and me ! ' ' 



I was by no means loth, for I must con- 
fess that all I had seen and heard of this 
lady inteitsted me in her more and more. 
I felt at home with her, too, as with no 
other society woman I have met ; she 
seemed to me not only good, but very sin- 
cere, and very good-hearted, in spite of 
the world she lived in. Yet I have met 
so many disappointments here, of the 
kind that our civilization wholly fails to 
prepare us for, that I should not have been 
surprised to find that Mrs. Strange had 
wished me to stay, not that she might 
hear me talk about Altruria, but that I 
might hear her talk about herself. You 
must understand that the essential vice 
of a system which concenters a human 
being's thoughts upon his own interests, 
from the first moment of responsibility, 
colors and qualifies every motive with 
egotism. All egotists are unconscious, 
for otherwise they would be intolerable to 
themselves ; but some are subtler than 
others ; and as most women have finer 
natures than most men, everywhere, and 
in America most women have finer minds 
than most men, their egotism usually 
takes the form of pose. This is often ob- 
vious, but in some cases it is so delicately 
managed that you do not suspect it, un- 
less some other woman gives you a hint 
of it, and even then you cannot be sure 
of it, seeing the self-sacrifice, almost to 
martyrdom, which the poseuse makes for 
it. If Mrs. Makely had not suggested 
that some people attributed a pose to Mrs. 
Strange, I should certainly never have 
dreamed of looking for it, and I should 
have been only intensely interested, when 
she began, as soon as I was left alone 
with her and her mother : 

"You may not know T how unusual 
I am in asking this favor of you, Mr. 
Homos ; but you might as well learn from 
me as from others, that I am rather un- 
usual in everything. In fact, you can re- 
port in Altruria, when you get home, that 
you found at least one woman in America, 
whom fortune had smiled upon in every 



AN ALTRUISTIC PLUTOCRAT. 



115 



way, and who hated her smiling fortune al- 
most as much as she hated herself. I'm 
quite satisfied," she went on, with a sad 
mockery, " that fortune is a man, and an 
American ; when he has given you all the 
materials for having a good time, he be- 
lieves that you must be happy, because 
there is nothing to hinder. It isn't that 
I want to be happy in the greedy way 
that men think we do, for then I could 
easily be happy. If you have a soul 
which is not above buttons, buttons are 
enough. But if you expect to be of real 
use, to help on, and to help out, you will 
be disappointed. I have not the faith 
that they say upholds you Altrurians in 
trying to help out, if I didn't see my way 
out. It seems to me that my reason has 
some right to satisfaction, and that, 
if I am a woman grown, I can't be sat- 
isfied with the assurances they would 
give to little girls, that everything is go- 
ing on well. Any one can see that things 
are not going on well. There is more and 
more wretchedness of every kind, not 
hunger of body alone, but hunger of 
soul. If you escape one, you suffer the 
other, because, if you have a soul, you 
must long to help, not for a time, but for 
all time. I suppose," she asked, abrupt- 
ly, " that Mrs. Makely has told you some- 
thing about me?" 

" Something," I admitted. 

" I ask," she went on, << because I don't 
want to bore you with a statement of my 
case, if )'ou know it already. Ever since 
I heard you were in New York, I have 
wished to see you, and to talk with you 
about Altruria ; I did not suppose that 
there would be any chance at Mrs. Make- 
ly' s, and there wasn't ; and I did not 
suppose there would be any chance here, 
unless I could take courage to do what I 
have done, now. You must excuse it, if it 
seems as extraordinary a proceeding to 
you as it really is ; I wouldn't at all have 
you think it is usual for a lady to ask one 
of her guests to stay after the rest, in or- 
der, if you please, to confess herself to 
him. It's a crime without a name." 

She laughed, not gaily, but humorous- 
ly, and then went on, speaking always 
with a feverish eagerness, which I find it 
hard to give you a sense of, for the women 
here have an intensity quite beyond our 
experience of the sex at home : 

1 ' But you are a foreigner, and you come 



from an order of things so utterly unlike 
ours, that perhaps you will be able to 
condone my offense. At any rate, I have 
risked it." She laughed again, more 
gaily, and recovered herself in a cheerful- 
ler and easier mood. " Well, the long and 
the short of it is, that I have come to the 
end of my tether. I have tried, as truly 
as I believe any woman ever did, to 
do my share, with money and with 
work, to help make life better for those 
whose life is bad, and though one mustn't 
boast of good works, I may say that I 
have been pretty thorough, and if I've 
given up, it's because I see, in our state 
of things, no hope of curing the evil. 
It's like trying to soak up the drops of a 
rainstorm. You do dry a drop here and 
there ; but the clouds are full of them, 
and the first thing you know, you stand, 
with your blotting-paper in your hand, in 
a puddle over your shoe-top. There is 
nothing but charity, and charity is a fail- 
ure, except for the moment. If you think 
of the misery around you, and that must 
remain around you, forever and ever, as 
long as you live, you have your choice — 
to go mad, and be put into an asylum, or 
go mad, and devote yourself to society." 

While Mrs. Strange talked on, her 
mother listened quietly, with a dim, sub- 
missive smile, and her hands placidly 
crossed in her lap. She now said : 

" It seems to be very different now from 
what it was in my time. There are cer- 
tainly a great many beggars, and we used 
never to have one. Children grew up, 
and people lived and died, in large towns, 
without ever seeing one. I remember, 
when my husband first took me abroad, 
how astonished we were at the beggars. 
Now, I meet as many in New York, as I 
met in London, or in Rome. But if you 
don't do charity, what can you do? Christ 
enjoined it, and Paul said — " 

" Oh, people never do the charity that 
Christ meant," said Mrs. Strange; " and, 
as things are now, how could they ? Who 
would dream of dividing half her frocks 
and wraps with poor women, or selling 
all, and giving to the poor ? That is what 
makes it so hopeless. We know that 
Christ was perfectly right, and that he 
was perfectly sincere in what he said to 
the good young millionaire ; but we all 
go away exceeding sorrowful, just as the 
good young millionaire did. We have to, 



116 



AN AL TRUISTIC PL UTOCRA T. 



if we don't want to come on charity our- 
selves. Howdoyou manage about that?" 
she asked me ; and then she added, " But, 
of course, I forgot that you have no need 
of charity." 

" Oh, yes, we have," I returned ; and I 
tried, once more, as I have tried so often 
with Americans, to explain how the heav- 
enly need of giving the self continues 
with us, but on terms that do not harrow 
the conscience of the giver, as self-sacri- 
fice always must here, at its purest and 
noblest. I sought to make her conceive 
of our nation as a family, where every one 
was secured against want by the common 
provision, and against the degrading and 
depraving inequality which comes from 
want. The "dead-level of equality" is 
what the Americans call the condition in 
which all would be as the angels of God, 
and they blasphemously deny that He 
ever meant His creatures to be alike 
happy, because some, through a long suc- 
cession of unfair advantages, have inher- 
ited more brain, or brawn, or beauty, 
than others. I found that this gross and 
impious notion of God darkened even 
the clear intelligence of a woman like Mrs. 
Strange ; and, indeed, it prevails here so 
commonly, that it is one of the first 
things advanced as an argument against 
the Altrurianization of America. 

I believe I did, at last, succeed in show- 
ing her how charity still continues among 
us, but in forms that bring neither a sense 
of inferiority to him who takes, nor anx- 
iety to him who gives. I said that benev- 
olence here often seemed to involve, es- 
sentially, some such risk as a man should 
run if he parted with a portion of the 
vital air which belonged to himself and 
his family, in succoring a fellow-being 
from suffocation ; but that with us, where 
it was no more possible for one to de- 
prive himself of his share of the common 
food, shelter, and clothing, than of the 
air he breathed, one could devote one's 
self utterly to others, without that foul 
alloy of fear, which I thought must basely 
qualify every good deed in plutocratic con- 
ditions. 

She said that she knew what I meant, 
and that I was quite right in my con- 
jecture, as regarded men, at least ; a man 
who did not stop to think what the 
effect, upon himself and his own, his giv- 
ing must have, would be a fool or a mad- 



man ; but women could often give as 
recklessly as they spent, without any 
thought of consequences, for they did not 
know how money came. 

"Women," I said, "are exterior to 
your conditions, and they can sacrifice 
themselves without wronging any one." 

"Or, rather," she continued, "with- 
out the sense of wronging any one. Our 
men like to keep us in that innocence, or 
ignorance ; they think it is pretty, or they 
think it is funny ; and as long as a girl is 
in her father's house, or a wife is in her 
husband's, she knows no more of money- 
earning, or money-making, than a child. 
Most grown women, among us, if they 
had a sum of money in the bank, would 
not know how to get it out. The}' would 
not know how to endorse a check, much 
less draw one. But there are plenty of 
women who are inside the conditions, as 
much as men are : poor women who have to 
earn their bread, and rich women who have 
to manage their property. I can't speak 
for the poor women ; but I can speak for 
the rich, and I can confess for them that 
what you imagine is true. The taint of 
unfaith and distrust is on every dollar 
that you dole out, so that, as far as the 
charity of the rich is concerned, I would 
read Shakespeare : 

" It curseth him that gives, and Mm that takes." 

"Perhaps that is why the rich give com- 
paratively so little ! The poor can never 
understand how much the rich value 
their money, how much the owner of a 
great fortune dreads to see it less ! If it 
were not so, they would surely give more 
than they do ; for a man who has ten 
millions could give eight of them, without 
feeling the loss ; the man with a hundred 
could give ninety, and be no nearer want. 
Ah, it's a strange mystery ! My poor 
husband and I used to talk of it a great 
deal, in the long year that he lay dying; 
and I think I hate my superfluity the more 
because I know he hated it so much." 

A little trouble had stolen into her im- 
passioned tones, and there was a gleam, 
as of tears, in the eyes she dropped for a 
moment. They were shining still, when 
she lifted them again to mine. 

"I suppose," she said, "that Mrs. 
Makely told you something of my mar- 
riage? " 



AN ALTRUISTIC PLUTOCRAT. 



117 



" Eveleth ! " her mother protested, with 
a gentle murmur. 

"Oh, I think I can be frank with Mr. 
Homos ! He is not an American, and he 
will understand, or, at least, he will not 
misunderstand. Besides, I dare say I 
shall not say anything worse than Mrs. 
Makely has said already ! My husband 
was much older than I, and I ought 
not to have married him ; a young girl 
ought never to marry an old man, or 
even a man who is only a good many 
years her senior. But we both faithfully 
tried to make the best of our mistake, not 
the worst, and I think this effort helped 
us to respect each other, when there 
couldn't be any question of more. He was 
a rich man, and he had made his money 
out of nothing, or, at least, from a begin- 
ning of utter poverty. But in his last 
years he came to a sense of its worthless- 
ness, such as few men who have made 
their money ever have. He w r as a com- 
mon man, in a great many ways ; he was 
imperfectly educated, and he was un- 
grammatical, and he never was at home 
in society ; but he had a tender heart, 
and an honest nature, and I revere his 
memory, as no one would believe I could 
without knowing him as I did. His 
money became a burden and a terror to 
him ; he did not know what to do with it, 
and he was always morbidly afraid of do- 
ing harm with it ; he got to thinking that 
money was an evil in itself." 

" That is what we think," I ventured. 

"Yes, I know. But he had thought 
this out for himself, and yet he had times 
when his thinking about it seemed to him 
a kind of craze, and, at any rate, he dis- 
trusted himself so much that he died leav- 
ing it all to me. I suppose he thought 
that, perhaps, I could learn how to give it 
without hurting ; and then he knew that, 
in our state of things, I must have some 
money to keep the wolf from the door. 
And I am afraid to part with it, too. I 
have given, and given ; but there seems 
some evil spell on the principal, that 
guards it from encroachment, so that it 
remains the same, and, if I do not watch, 
the interest grows in the bank, with that 
frightful life dead money seems endowed 
with, as the hair of dead people grows 
in the grave." 

"Eveleth!" her mother murmured 
again. 



" Oh, yes," she answered, " I dare say 
my words are wild. I dare say they only 
mean that I loathe my luxury from the 
bottom of my soul, and long to be rid of 
it, if I only could, without harm toothers, 
and with safety to myself." 

It seemed to me that I became suddenly 
sensible to this luxury for the first time. 
I had certainly been aware that I was in a 
large and stately house, and that I had 
been served and banquetted with a prince- 
ly pride and profusion. But there had, 
somehow, been through all a sort of sim- 
plicity, a sort of retrusive quiet, so that I 
had not thought of the establishment, and 
its operation, even so much as I had 
thought of Mrs. Makely' s far inferior scale 
of living ; or, else, what with my going 
about so much in society, I was ceasing 
to be so keenly observant of the material 
facts as I had been at first. But I was 
better qualified to judge of what I saw, 
and I had now a vivid sense of the cost- 
liness of Mrs. Strange's environment. 
There were thousands of dollars in the 
carpets underfoot ; there were tens of 
thousands in the pictures on the walls. In 
a bronze group that withdrew itself into a 
certain niche, with a faint relucence, there 
was the value of a skilled artisan's wage 
for five 3'ears of hard work ; in the bind- 
ings of the books that showed from the 
library shelves, there was almost as much 
money as most of the authors had got for 
writing them. Every fixture, every mov- 
able, was an artistic masterpiece ; a for- 
tune, as fortunes used to be counted even 
in this land of affluence, had been lavished 
in the mere furnishing of a house which 
the palaces of nobles and princes of other 
times had contributed to embellish. 

" My husband," Mrs. Strange went on, 
"bought this house for me, and let me 
furnish it after my own fancy. After it 
was all done, we neither of us liked it, 
and when he died, I felt as if he had left 
me in a tomb here." 

" Eveleth," said her mother, " you 
ought not to speak so before Mr. Homos. 
He will not know what to think of you, 
and he will go back to Altruria with a 
very wrong idea of American women." 

At this protest, Mrs. Strange seemed to 
recover herself a little. " Yes," she said, 
" you must excuse me. I have no right 
to speak so. But one is often much 
franker with foreigners than with one's 



118 



AN ALTRUISTIC PLUTOCRAT. 



own kind, and, besides, there is some- 
thing — I don't know what ! — that will not 
let me keep the truth from you." 

She gazed at me entreatingly, and then, 
as if some strong emotion swept her from 
her own hold, she broke out : 

' ' He thought he would make some sort 
of atonement to me, as if I owed none to 
him ! His money was all he had to do it 
with, and he spent that upon me in every 
way he could think of, though he knew 
that money could not buy anything that 
was really good, and that, if it bought 
anything beautiful, it uglified it with the 
sense of cost, to every one who could value 
it in dollars and cents. He was a good 
man, far better than people ever imag- 
ined, and very simple-hearted and honest, 
like a child, in his contrition for his 
wealth, which he did not dare to get rid 
of ; and though I know that, if he were 
to come back, it would be just as it was, 
his memory is as dear to me as if—" 

She stopped, and pressed in her lip 
with her teeth, to stay its tremor. I was 
painfully affected. I knew that she had 
never meant to be so open with me, and 
was shocked and frightened at herself. I 
was sorry for her, and yet I was glad, for 
it seemed to me that she had given me a 
glimpse, not only of the truth in her own 
heart, but of the truth in the hearts of a 
whole order of prosperous people in these 
lamentable conditions, whom I shall here- 
after be able to judge more leniently, 
more justly. 

I began to speak of Altruria, as if that 
were what our talk had been leading up 
to, and she showed herself more intelli- 
gently interested concerning us, than any 
one I have yet seen in this country. We 
appeared, I found, neither incredible nor 
preposterous to her ; our life, in her eyes, 
had that beauty of right living which the 
Americans so feebly imagine, or imagine 
not at all. She asked what route I had 
come by to America, and she seemed disap- 
pointed and aggrieved that we placed the 
restrictions we have felt necessary upon 
visitors from the plutocratic world. Were 
we afraid, she asked, that they would cor- 
rupt our citizens, or mar our content with 



our institutions ? She seemed scarcely 
satisfied when I explained, as I have ex- 
plained so often here, that the measures 
we had taken were taken rather in the in- 
terest of the plutocratic world, than of the 
Altrurians ; and alleged the fact that no 
visitor from the outside had ever been 
willing to go home again, as sufficient 
proof that we had nothing to fear from 
the spread of plutocratic ideals among us. 
I assured her, and this she easily imag- 
ined, that the better known these became, 
the worse they appeared to us ; and that 
the only concern our Priors felt, in regard 
to them, was that our youth could not 
conceive of them in all their enormity, 
but, in meeting plutocratic people, and 
seeing how estimable they often were, 
they would attribute to their conditions 
the inherent good of human nature. I 
said that our own life was so logical, so 
directly reasoned from its economic and 
political premises, that they could hardly 
believe the plutocratic life was often an 
absolute noil sequitur of the plutocratic 
premises. I confessed that this error was 
at the bottom of my own wish to visit 
America, and study those premises for 
myself. 

< ' And what has your conclusion been ? ' ' 
she said, leaning eagerly toward me, 
across the table between us, laden with 
the maps and charts we had been examin- 
ing for the verification of the position of 
Altruria, and my own course here, by 
way of England. 

I heard a slight sigh escape Mrs. Gray, 
which I interpreted as an expression 
of the fatigue she might well feel, for 
it was already past twelve o'clock ; and 
I made it the pretext for an instant 
escape. 

" You have seen the meaning and pur- 
port of Altruria so clearly," I said, "that 
I think I can safely leave you to guess 
the answer to that question." 

She laughed, and did not try to detain 
me, now, when I offered my hand for 
good-night. I fancied her mother took 
leave of me coldly, and with a certain ef- 
fect of inculpation. 

A. Homos. 



[To be concluded in the September issue.] 



119 



LETTERS OF AN ALTRURIAN TRAVELLER. 



By W. D. Howells. 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



XL 



New York, April 20, 1894. 
My dear Cyril : 

It is long since I wrote you, and you 
have had reason enough to be impatient 
of my silence. I submit to the reproaches 
of your letter, with a due sense of my 
blame ; whether I am altogether to blame, 
you shall say after you have read this. 

I cannot yet decide whether I have lost a 
great happiness, the greatest that could 
come to any man, or escaped the worst 
misfortune that could befall me. But such 
as it is, I will try to set the fact honestly 
down. 

I do not know whether you had any 
conjecture, from my repeated mention of 
a lady whose character greatly interested 
me, that I was in the way of feeling any 
other interest in her than my letters ex- 
pressed. I am no longer young, though 
at thirty-five an Altrurian is by no means 
so old as an American at the same age. 
The romantic ideals of the American 
women which I had formed from the 
American novels had been dissipated ; if 
I had any sentiment toward them, as a 
type, it was one of distrust, which my 
very sense of the charm in their incon- 
sequence, their beauty, their brilliancy, 
served rather to intensify. I thought my- 
self doubl}' defended by that difference 
between their civilization and ours, which 
forbade any reasonable hope of happiness 
in a sentiment for them, tenderer than 
that of the student of new and strange 
effects in human nature. But we have not 
yet, my dear Cyril, reasoned the passions, 
even in Altruria. 

After I last wrote you, a series of acci- 
dents, or what appeared so, threw me 
more and more constantly into the society 
of Mrs. Strange. We began to laugh at 
the fatality with which we met every- 
where, at teas, at lunches, at dinners, at 
evening receptions, and even at balls, 
where I have been a great deal, because, 
with all my thirty-five years, I have not 
yet outlived that fondness for dancing 
which has so often amused you in 



me. Wherever my acquaintance widened 
among cultivated people, they had no in- 
spiration but to ask us to meet each other, 
as if there were really no other woman in 
New York who could be expected to un- 
derstand me. " You must come to lunch 
(or tea, or dinner, whichever it might be), 
and we will have her. She will be so 
much interested to meet you." 

But perhaps we should have needed 
none of these accidents to bring us to- 
gether. I, at least, can look back, and 
see that, when none of them happened, 
I sought occasions for seeing her, and 
made excuses of our common interest in 
this matter and in that, to go to her. As 
for her, I can only say that I seldom failed 
to find her at home, whether I called upon 
her nominal day or not, and more than 
once the man who let me in said he had 
been charged by Mrs. Strange to say that, 
if I called, she was to be back very soon ; 
or, else, he made free to suggest that, 
though Mrs. Strange was not at home, 
Mrs. Gray was ; and then I found it easy 
to stay until Mrs. Strange returned. The 
good old lady had an insatiable curiosity 
about Altruria, and, though I do not think 
she ever quite believed in our reality, she 
at least always treated me kindly, as if I 
were the victim of an illusion that was 
thoroughly benign. 

I think she had some notion that your 
letters, which I used often to take with 
me, and read to Mrs. Strange and herself, 
were inventions of mine ; and the fact that 
they bore only an English postmark, con- 
firmed her in this notion, though I ex- 
plained that in our present passive atti- 
tude toward the world outside, we had yet 
no postal relations with other countries, 
and, as all our communication at home 
was by electricity, that we had no letter 
post of our own. The very fact that she 
belonged to a purer and better age in 
America disqualified her to conceive of 
Altruria ; her daughter, who had lived 
into a full recognition of the terrible 
anarchy in which the conditions have ulti- 
mated here, could far more vitally imagine 
us, and to her, I believe, we were at once 



120 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



a living reality. Her perception, her 
sympathy, her intelligence, became more 
and more to me, and I escaped to them 
oftener and oftener, from a world where 
any Altrurian must be so painfully at 
odds. In all companies here, I am aware 
that I have been regarded either as a good 
joke, or a bad joke, according to the hu- 
mor of the listener, and it was grateful to 
be taken seriously. 

From the first, I was sensible of a charm 
in her, different from that I felt in other 
American women, and impossible in our 
Altrurian women. She had a deep and 
almost tragical seriousness, masked with 
a most winning gaiety, a light irony, a 
fine scorn that was rather for herself than 
for others. She had thought herself out 
of all sympathy with her environment,; 
she knew its falsehood, its vacuity, its 
hopelessness ; but she necessarily re- 
mained in it, and of it. She was as much 
at odds in it as I was, without my poor 
privilege of criticism and protest, for, as 
she said, she could not set herself up as 
censor of things that she must keep on 
doing as other people did. She could 
have renounced the world, as there are 
ways and means of doing, here ; but she 
had no vocation to the religious life, and 
she could not feign it, without a sense of 
sacrilege. In fact, this generous, and 
magnanimous, and gifted woman was 
without that faith, that trust in God, 
which comes to us from living His law, 
and which I wonder any American can 
keep. She denied nothing ; but she had 
lost the strength to affirm anything. She 
no longer tried to do good from her heart, 
though she kept on doing charity in what 
she said was a mere mechanical impulse 
from the belief of other days, but always 
with the ironical doubt that she was doing 
harm. Women are nothing by halves, as 
men can be, and she was in a despair 
which no man can realize, for we have 
always some if or and, which a woman of 
the like mood casts from her in wild re- 
jection. Where she could not clearly see 
her way to a true life, it was the same to 
her as an impenetrable darkness. 

You will have inferred something of all 
this, from what I have written of her be- 
fore, and from words of hers that I have 
reported to you. Do you think it so won- 
derful, then, that in the joy I felt at the 
hope, the solace which my story of our 



life seemed to give her, she should become 
more and more precious to me ? It was 
not wonderful, either, I think, that she 
should identify me with that hope, that 
solace, and should suffer herself to lean 
upon me, in a reliance infinitely sweet 
and endearing. But what a fantastic 
dream it now appears ! 

I can hardly tell you just how we 
came to own our love to each other ; but 
one day I found myself alone with her 
mother, with the sense that Eveleth had 
suddenly withdrawn from the room, at 
the knowledge of my approach Mrs. 
Gray was strongly moved by something; 
but she governed herself, and, after giv- 
ing me a tremulous hand, bade me sit. 

"Will you excuse me, Mr. Homos," 
she began, " if I ask you whether you in- 
tend to make America your home, after 
this?" 

"Oh, no!" I answered, and I tried to 
keep out of my voice the despair with 
which the notion filled me. I have some- 
times had nightmares, here, in which I 
thought that I was an American by choice, 
and I can give you no conception of the 
rapture of awakening to the fact that I 
could still go back to Altruria, that I had 
not cast my lot with this wretched people. 
" How could I do that ? " I faltered ; and 
I was glad to perceive that I had imparted 
to her no hint of the misery which I had 
felt at such a notion. 

" I mean, by getting naturalized, and 
becoming a citizen, and taking up your 
residence amongst us." 

' ' No, ' ' I answered, as quietly as I could, 
" I had not thought of that." 

" And you still intend to go back to Al- 
truria ? " 

" I hope so ; I ought to have gone back 
long ago, and if I had not met the friends 
I have in this house — " I stopped, for I 
did not know how I should end what I 
had begun to say. 

"I am glad you think we are your 
friends," said the lady, "for we have 
tried to show ourselves your friends. I 
feel as if this had given me the right to 
say something to you, that you may 
think very odd." 

" Say anything to me, dear lady," I re- 
turned. " I shall not think it unkind, no 
matter how odd it is." 

" Oh, it's nothing. It's merely that — 
that when you are not here with us, I lose 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



121 



my grasp on Altruria ; and — and I begin 
to doubt — ' ' 

I smiled. " I know ! People here have 
often hinted something of that kind to 
me. Tell me, Mrs. Gray, do Americans 
generally take me for an impostor ? " 

"Oh, no!" she answered, fervently. 
"Everybody that I have heard speak of 
you has the highest regard for you, and 
believes you perfectly sincere. But — " 

"But what?" I entreated. 

" They think you may be mistaken." 

" Then they think I am out of my wits 
— that I am in an hallucination ! " 

" No, not that," she returned. " But it 
is so ver}' difficult for us to conceive of a 
whole nation living, as you say you do, 
on the same terms as one family, and no 
one trying to get ahead of another, or 
richer, and having neither inferiors nor 
superiors, but just one dead level of 
equality, where there is no distinction, 
except by natural gifts, and good deeds, 
or beautiful works. It seems impossible, 
it seems ridiculous " 

"Yes," I confessed, "I know that it 
seems so to the Americans." 

"And I must tell you something else, 
Mr. Homos, and I hope you won't take it 
amiss. The first night when you talked 
about Altruria, here, and showed us how 
you had come, by way of England, and 
the place where Altruria ought to be on 
our maps, I looked them over, after you 
were gone, and I could make nothing of 
it. As far as I could see, Australia and 
New Zealand occupied the place that Al- 
truria ought to have had on the map." 

" Australia and New Zealand are more 
like Altruria than any other countries of 
the plutocratic world, in their constitu- 
tion,' ' I said, "and perhaps that was what 
made them seem to occupy our place." 

" No, it wasn't that ; it couldn't have 
been, for I didn't know that they were 
like Altruria. I can't explain it — I never 
could. I have often looked at the map 
since, but it was no use." 

"Why," I said, "if you will let me 
have your atlas — " 

She shook her head. " It would be the 
same again, as soon as you went away." 
I could not conceal my distress, and she 
went on : " Now, you mustn't mind what 
I say. I'm nothing but a silly old woman, 
and Eveleth would never forgive me if 
she could know what I've been saying." 



"Then Mrs. Strange isn't troubled, as 
you are, concerning me? " I asked, and I 
confess my anxiety attenuated my voice 
almost to a whisper. 

Mrs. Gray shook her head vaguely. 
" She won't admit that she is. It might 
be better for her if she would. But Eveleth 
is very true to her friends, and that — that 
makes me all the more anxious that she 
should not deceive herself." 

" Oh, Mrs. Gray ! " I could not keep a 
certain tone of reproach out of my words. 

She began to weep. "There ! I knew 
I should hurt your feelings. But you 
mustn't mind what I say. I beg your 
pardon ! I take it all back — " 

" Ah, I don't want you to take it back ! 
But what proof shall I give you that there 
is such a land as Altruria! If the dark- 
ness implies the day, America must im- 
ply Altruria. In what way do I seem 
false, or mad, except that I claim to be the 
citizen of a country where people love one 
another as the first Christians did ? " 

" That is just it," she returned. " No- 
body can imagine the first Christians, and 
do you think we can imagine anything 
like them in our own day ? " 

"But Mrs. Strange — she imagines us, 
you say ? ' ' 

" She thinks she does ; but I am afraid she 
only thinks so, and I know her better than 
you do, Mr. Homos. I know how enthusi- 
astic she always was, and how unhappy 
she has been since she has lost her hold 
on faith, and how eagerly she has caught 
at the hope you have given her of a higher 
life on earth than we live here. If she 
should ever find out that she was wrong, 
I don't know what would become of her. 
You mustn't mind me ; you mustn't let 
me wound you by what I say ! ' ' 

"You don't wound me, and I only 
thank you for what you say ; but I en- 
treat you to believe in me. Mrs. Strange 
has not deceived herself, and I have not 
deceived her. Shall I protest to you, by 
all that is sacred, that I am really what I 
told you I was ; that I am not less, and 
that Altruria is infinitely more, happier, 
better, gladder, than any words of mine 
can say ? Shall I not have the happiness 
to see your daughter to-day ? I had some- 
thing to say to her, something — and now 
I have so much more ! If she is in the 
house, will not you send to her ? I can 
make her understand — " 



122 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



I stopped at a certain expression which 
I fancied I saw in Mrs. Gray's face. 

" Mr. Homos," she began, so very 
seriously that my heart trembled with a 
vague misgiving, " sometimes I think 
you had better not see my daughter any 
more." 

1 ' Not see her any more ? " I gasped. 

" Yes ; 1 don't see what good can come 
of it, and it's all very strange, and un- 
canny. I don't know how to explain it ; 
but, indeed, it isn't anything personal. 
It's because you are of a state of things 
so utterly opposed to human nature, that 
I don't see how— I am afraid that — " 

" But I am not uncanny to her? " I en- 
treated. "I am not unnatural, not in- 
credible — ' ' 

" Oh, no ; that is the worst of it. But 
I have said too much ; I have said a great 
deal more than I ought. But you must 
excuse it : I am an old woman. I am not 
very well, and I suppose it's that makes 
me talk so much." 

She rose from her chair, and I perforce 
rose from mine, and made a movement 
toward her. 

" No, no," she said, " I don't need any 
help. You must come again soon, and 
see us, and show that you've forgotten 
what I've said." She gave me her hand, 
and I could not help bending over it, and 
kissing it. She gave a little, pathetic 
whimper. " Oh, I know I've said the 
most dreadful things to you." 

" You haven't said anything that takes 
your friendship from me, Mrs. Gray, and 
that is what I care for." My own eyes 
filled with tears, I do not know why, and 
I groped my way from the room. With- 
out seeing any one in the obscurity of the 
hallway, where I found myself, I was 
aware of some one there, by that sort of 
fine perception that makes us know the 
presence of a spirit. 

"You are going?" a whisper said. 
"Why are you going?" And Eveleth 
had me by the hand, and was drawing me 
gently into the dim drawing-room that 
opened from the place. , "I don't know 
all my mother has been saying to you. I 
had to let her say something ; she thought 
she ought. I knew you would know how 
to excuse it." 

" Oh, my dearest ! " I said, and why I 
said this I do not know, or how we found 
ourselves in each other's arms. 



"What are we doing ? " she murmured. 

" You don't believe I am an impostor, 
an illusion, a visionary !" I besought her, 
straining her closer to my heart. 

"I believe in you, with all my soul !" 
she answered. 

We sat down, side by side, and talked 
long. I did not go away the whole day. 
With a high disdain of convention, she 
made me stay. Her mother sent word that 
she would not be able to come to dinner, 
and we were alone together at table, in an 
image of what our united lives should be. 
W T e spent the evening in that happy inter- 
change of trivial confidences that lovers 
use in symbol of the unutterable raptures 
that fill them. We were there in what 
seemed an infinite present, without a 
past, without a future. 

Society had to be taken into our confi- 
dence, and Mrs. Makely saw to it that 
there were no reserves with society. Our 
engagement was not quite like that of two 
young persons, but people found in our 
character and circumstance an interest far 
transcending that felt in the engagement 
of the most romantic lovers. Some note 
of the fact came to us by accident, as one 
evening when we stood near a couple, 
and heard them talking. "It must be 
very weird," the man said ; "something 
like being engaged to a materialization." 
"Yes," said the girl, "quite the Demon 
Lover business, I should think." She 
glanced round, as people do, in talking, 
and, at sight of us, she involuntarily put 
her hand over her mouth. I looked at 
Eveleth ; there was nothing expressed in 
her face but a generous anxiety for me. 
But so far as the open attitude of society 
toward us was concerned, nothing could 
have been more flattering. We could 
hardly have been more asked to meet 
each other than before ; but now there 
were entertainments in special recogni- 
tion of our betrothal, which Eveleth said 
could not be altogether refused, though 
she found the ordeal as irksome as I did. 
In America, however, you get used to 
many things. I do not know why it 
should have been done, but in the society 
columns of several of the great news- 
papers, our likenesses were printed, from 
photographs procured I cannot guess 
how, with descriptions of our persons as 
to those points of coloring, and carriage, 
and stature, which the pictures could not 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



123 



give, and with biographies such as could 
be ascertained in her case and imagined 
in mine. In some of the society papers, 
paragraphs of a surpassing scurrility 
appeared, attacking me as an impostor, 
and aspersing the motives of Eveleth in 
her former marriage, and treating her as 
a foolish crank, or an audacious flirt. 
The goodness of her life, her self-sacrifice 
and works of benevolence counted for no 
more against these wanton attacks than 
the absolute inoffensiveness of my own ; 
the writers knew no harm of her, and 
they knew nothing at all of me ; but they 
devoted us to the execration of their 
readers simply because we formed apt and 
ready themes for paragraphs. You may 
judge of how wild they were in their aim 
when some of them denounced me as an 
Altrurian plutocrat ! 

We could not escape this storm of noto- 
riety ; we had simply to let it spsnd its 
fury. When it began, several reporters 
of both sexes came to interview me, and 
questioned me, not only as to all the facts 
of my past life, and all my purposes in 
the future, but as to my opinions of hyp- 
notism, eternal punishment, the Ibsen 
drama, and the tariff reform. I did my 
best to answer them seriously, and cer- 
tainly I answered them civilly ; but it 
seemed from what they printed that the 
answers I gave did not concern them, for 
they gave others for me. They appeared 
to me for the most part kindly and well- 
meaning young people, though vastly ig- 
norant of vital things. They had appar- 
ently visited me with minds made up, or 
else their reports were revised by some 
controlling hand, and a quality injected 
more in the taste of the special journals 
they represented, than in keeping with 
the facts. When I realized this, I refused 
to see any more reporters, or to answer 
them, and then they printed the ques- 
tions they had prepared to ask me, in 
such form that my silence was made of 
the same damaging effect as a full confes- 
sion of guilt upon the charges. 

The experience was so strange and new 
to me that it affected me in a degree I was 
unwilling to let Eveleth imagine. But 
she divined my distress, and when she 
divined that it was chiefly for her, she set 
herself to console and reassure me. She 
told me that this was something every 
one here expected, in coming willingly or 



unwillingly before the public ; and that I 
must not think of it at all, for certainly 
no one else would think twice of it. This, 
I found was really so, for when I ven- 
tured tentatively to refer to some of these 
publications, I found that people, if they 
had read them, had altogether forgotten 
them ; and that they were, with all the 
glare of print, of far less effect with our 
acquaintance, than something said under 
the breath in a corner. I found that some 
of our friends had not known the effigies 
for ours which they had seen in the pa- 
pers ; others made a joke of the whole af- 
fair, as the Americans do with so many 
affairs, and said that they supposed the 
pictures were those of people who had 
been cured by some patent medicine, they 
looked so strong and handsome. This, I 
think, was a piece of Mr. Makely's humor 
in the beginning ; but it had a general 
vogue, long after the interviews and the 
illustrations were forgotten. 

I linger a little upon these trivial mat- 
ters because I shrink from what must fol- 
low. They were scarcely blots upon our 
happiness ; rather they were motes in the 
sunshine which had no other cloud. It is 
true that I was always somewhat puzzled 
by a certain manner in Mrs. Gray, which 
certainly was from no unfriendliness for 
me : she could not have been more affec- 
tionate to me, after our engagement, if I 
had been really her own son ; and it was 
not until after our common kindness had 
confirmed itself upon the new footing that 
I felt this perplexing qualification on it. 
I felt it first one day when I found her 
alone, and I talked long and freely to her 
of Eveleth, and opened to her my whole 
heart of joy in our love. At one point she 
casually asked me how soon we should 
expect to return from Altruria after our 
visit ; and at first I did not understand. 

" Of course," she explained, " you will 
want to see all your old friends, and so 
will Eveleth, for they will be her friends, 
too ; but if you want me to go with you, 
as you say, you must let me know when I 
shall see New York again." 

"Why," I said, "you will always be 
with us ! " 

" Well, then," she pursued with a smile, 
" when shall you come back ? " 

"Oh, never!" I answered. "No one 
ever leaves Altruria, if he can help it, un- 
less he is sent on a mission." 



124 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



She looked a little mystified, and I went 
on : "Of course, I was not officially au- 
thorized to visit the world outside, but I 
was permitted to do so, to satisfy a curios- 
ity the Priors thought useful ; but I have 
now had quite enough of it, and I shall 
never leave home again." 

" You won't come to live in America?" 

" God forbid ! " said I, and I am afraid 
I could not hide the horror that ran 
through me at the thought. " And when 
you once see our happy country, you 
could no more be persuaded to return to 
America than a disembodied spirit could 
be persuaded to return to the earth." 

She was silent, and I asked: "But, 
surely, you understood this, Mrs. Gray?" 

"No," she said, reluctantly.' "Does 
Eveleth ? ' ' 

" Wli3 r , certainly ! " I said. " We have 
talked it over a hundred times. Hasn't 
she—" 

"I don't know," she returned, with a 
vague trouble in her voice and eyes. 
" Perhaps I haven't understood her exact- 
ly. Perhaps — but I shall be ready to do 
whatever you and she think best. I am 
an old woman, you know ; and you know, 
I was born here, and I should feel the 
change." 

Her words conveyed to me a delicate 
reproach ; I felt for the first time that, in 
my love of my own country, I had not 
considered her love of hers. It is said 
that the Icelanders are homesick when 
they leave their world of lava and snow ; 
and I ought to have remembered that an 
American might have some such tender- 
ness for his atrocious conditions, if he 
were exiled from them forever. I sup- 
pose it was the large and wide mind of 
Eveleth, with its openness to a knowledge 
and appreciation of better things, that 
had suffered me to forget this. She seemed 
always so eager to see Altruria, she 
imagined it so fully, so lovingly, that I 
had ceased to think of her as an alien ; 
she seemed one of us, by birth as well as 
by affinity. 

Yet, now, the words of her mother, and 
the light they threw upon the situation, 
gave me pause. I began to ask myself 
questions which I was impatient to ask 
Eveleth, so that there should be no longer 
any shadow of misgiving in my breast ; 
and yet I found myself dreading to ask 
them, lest by some perverse juggle I had 



mistaken our perfect sympathy in all 
things for a perfect understanding. 

Like all cowards who wait a happy 
moment for the duty that should not be 
suffered to wait at all, I was destined to 
have the affair challenge me, instead of 
seizing the advantage of it that instant 
frankness would have given me. Shall I 
confess that I let several days go by, and 
still had not spoken to Eveleth, when, 
at the end of a long evening — the last 
long evening we passed together — she 
said : 

" What would you like to have me do 
with this house while we are gone ? " 

" Do with this house? " I echoed ; and 
I felt as if I were standing on the edge 
of an abyss. 

" Yes ; shall we let it, or sell it ; or 
what ? Or give it away ? " I drew a little 
breath at this ; perhaps we had not mis- 
understood each other, after all. She 
went on : "Of course, I have a peculiar 
feeling about it, so that I wouldn't like to 
get it ready, and let it furnished, in the 
ordinary way. I would rather lend it to 
some one, if I could be sure of any one 
who would appreciate it ; but I can't. 
Not one ! And it's very much the same 
when one comes to think about selling it. 
Yes, I should like to give it away for 
some good purpose, if there is any in 
this wretched state of things ! What do 
you say, Aristide ? " 

She always used the French form of 
my name, because she said it sounded 
ridiculous in English, for a white man, 
though I told her that the English was 
nearer the Greek in sound. 

" By all means, give it away," I said. 
Give it to some public purpose. That 
will at least be better than any private 
purpose, and put it somehow in the con- 
trol of the State, beyond the reach of 
individuals or corporations. Why not 
make it the foundation of a free school 
for the study of the Altrurian polity and 
economy ? ' ' 

She laughed at this, as if she thought 
I must be joking. "It would be droll, 
wouldn't it, to have Tammany appointees 
teaching Altrurianism? " Then she said, 
after a moment of reflection : "Why not ? 
It needn't be in the hands of Tammany. 
It could be in the hands of the United 
States; I will ask my lawyer if it couldn't; 
and I will endow it with money enough 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



125 



to support the school handsomely. Aris- 
tide, you have hit it ! " 

I began: " You can give all your money 
to it, my dear — " But I stopped at the 
bewildered look she turned on me. 

"All?" she repeated. "But what 
should we have to live on, then?" 

"We shall need no money to live on, 
in Altruria," I answered. 

" Oh, in Altruria ! But when we come 
back to New York ? ' ' 

It was an agonizing moment, and I 
felt that shutting of the heart which 
blinds the eyes and makes the brain reel. 
" Eveleth," I gasped, " did you expect to 
return to New York?" 

"Why, certainly!" she cried. "Not 
at once, of course. But after you had 
seen all your friends, and made a good, 
long visit — Why surely, Aristide, you 
don't understand that I — You didn't 
mean to live in Altruria?" 

"Ah!" I answered. "Where else 
could I live ? Did you think for an in- 
stant that I could live in such a land as 
this?" I saw that she was hurt, and I 
hastened to say, " I know that it is the 
best part of the world outside of Altru- 
ria; but, oh, my dear, you cannot imag- 
ine how horrible the notion of living here 
seems to me. Forgive me ! I am going 
from bad to worse. I don't mean to 
wound you. After all, it is your country, 
and you must love it. But, indeed, I 
could not think of living here. I could 
not take the burden of its wilful, hope- 
less misery on my soul. I must live in 
Altruria, and you, when you have once 
seen my country, our country, will never 
consent to live in any other ! " 

"Yes," she said, " I know it must be 
very beautiful; but I hadn't supposed — 
and yet I ought — " 

"No, dearest, no! It was I who was 
to blame, for not being clearer from the 
first. But that is the way with us ! We 
can't imagine any people willing to live 
anywhere else when once they have seen 
Altruria; and I have told you so much of 
it, and we have talked of it together so 
often, that I must have forgotten you had 
not actually known it. But listen, Eve- 
leth ! We will agree to this. After we 
have been a year in Altruria, if you wish 
to return to America, I will come back 
and live with you here." 

"No, indeed!" she answered, gener- 



ously. " If you are to be my husband," 
and here she began with the solemn words 
of the Bible, so beautiful in their quaint 
English, " ' whither thou goest, I will go, 
and I will not return from following after 
thee. Thy country shall be my country, 
and thy God my God.' " 

I caught her to my heart, in a rapture 
of tenderness, and the evening that had 
begun for us so forbiddingly, ended in a 
happiness such as not even our love had 
known before. I insisted upon the con- 
ditions I had made, as to our future home, 
and she agreed to them gaily, at last, as a 
sort of reparation which I might make my 
conscience, if I liked, for tearing her from 
a country which she had willingly lived 
out of for the far greater part of the last 
five years. 

But when we met again, I could see 
that she had been thinking seriously. 

"I won't give the house absolutely 
away," she said. " I will keep the deed of 
it myself, but I will establish that sort of 
school of Altrurian doctrine in it, and I 
will endow it, and when we come back 
here, for our experimental sojourn, after 
we've been in Altruria a year, will take 
up our quarters in it, — I won't give the 
whole house to the school, — and we will 
lecture on the later phases of Altrurian 
life to the pupils. How will that do ? " 

She put her arms round my neck, and I 
said that it would do admirably ; but I had 
a certain sinking of the heart, for I saw 
how hard it was even for Eveleth to part 
with her property. 

" I'll endow it," she went on, " and I'll 
leave the rest of my money at interest 
here ; unless you think that some Altru- 
rian securities — " 

"No; there are no such things!" I 
cried. 

" That was what I thought," she re- 
turned ; " and as it will cost us nothing 
while we are in Altruria, the interest will 
be something very handsome by the time 
we get back, even in United States bonds. ' ' 

" Something handsome ! " I cried. 
" But, Kveleth, haven't I heard you say 
yourself that the growth of interest from 
dead money was like — " 

" Oh, yes ; that ! " she returned. " But 
you know you have to take it. You can't 
let the money lie idle ; that would be 
ridiculous ; and then, with the good pur- 
pose we have in view, it is our duty to 



126 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



take the interest. How should we keep 
up the school, and pay the teachers, and 
everything?" 

I saw that she had forgotten the great 
sum of the principal, or that, through 
life-long training and association, it was 
so sacred to her that she did not even 
dream of touching it. I was silent, and 
she thought that I was persuaded. 

1 ' You are perfectly right in theory, dear, 
and I feel just as you do about such 
things ; I'm sure I've suffered enough 
from them ; but if we didn't take interest 
for your money, what should we have to 
live on ? " 

"Not my money, Eveleth ! " I entreated. 
' ' Don't say my money ! ' ' 

"But whatever is mine is yours," .she 
returned, with a wounded air. 

"Not your money ; but I hope you will 
soon have none. We should need no 
money to live on in Altruria. Our share 
of the daily toil of all will amply suffice 
for our daily bread and shelter." 

"In Altruria, yes. But how about 
America? And you have promised to 
come back here in a year, you know. 
Ladies and gentlemen can't share in the 
daily toil, here, even if they could get the 
toil, and where there are so many out of 
work, it isn't probable they could." 

She dropped upon my knee, as she 
spoke, laughing, and put her hand under 
my chin, to lift my fallen face. 

"Now, you mustn't be a goose, Aris- 
tide, even if you are an angel ! Now, lis- 
ten ! You know, don't you, that I hate 
money just as badly as }'ou ?" 

"You have made me think so, Eve- 
leth," I answered. 

" I hate it and loathe it. I think it's 
the source of all the sin and misery in the 
world ; but you can't get rid of it at a 
blow. For if you gave it away, you might 
do more harm than good with it." 

" You could destroy it," I said. 

" Not unless you were a crank," .she re- 
turned. " And that brings me just to the 
point. I know that I'm doing a very 
queer thing to get married, when we 
know so little, really, about you," and 
she accented this confession with a laugh 
that was also a kiss. "But I want to 
show people that we are just as practical 
as anybody ; and if they can know that I 
have lett my money all in United States 
bonds, they'll respect us. no matter what 



I do with the interest. Don't you see? 
We can come back, and preach and teach 
Altrurianism, and as long as we pay our 
way, nobody will have the right to say 
a word. Why, Tolstoy himself doesn't 
destroy his money, though he wants 
other people to do it. His wife keeps it, 
and supports the family. You have to do 
it." 

" He doesn't do it willingly." 

"No. And we won't. And after a while 
— after we've got back, and compared Al- 
truria and America from practical expe- 
rience, if we decide to go to live there al- 
together, I will let you do what 3'ou please 
with the hateful money. I suppose we 
couldn't take it there with us." 

" No more than you could take it to 
heaven with you," I answered solemnly; 
but she would not let me be altogether 
serious about it. 

"Well, in either case, we could get on 
without it, though we certainly could not 
get on without it, here. Why, Aristide, 
it is essential to the influence we shall 
try to exert for Altrurianism ; for if we 
came back here, and preached the true 
life without any money to back us, no 
one would pay any attention to us. But 
if we have a good house waiting for us, 
and are able to entertain nicely, we can 
attract the best people, and — and — really 
do some good." 

I rose in a distress which I could not 
hide. " Oh, Eveleth, Eveleth ! " I cried. 
"You are like all the rest, poor child. 
You are the creature of your environ- 
ment, as we all are. You cannot escape 
what you have been. It may be that I 
was wrong to wish or expect you to cast 
your lot with me in Altruria, at once and 
forever. It may be that it is my duty to 
return here with you after a time, not 
only to let you see that Altruria is best, 
but to end my days in this unhappy land, 
preaching and teaching Altrurianism ; 
but we must not come as prophets to 
the comfortable people, and entertain 
nicely. If we are to renew the evangel, 
it must be in the life and the spirit of the 
First Altrurian : we must come poor to 
the poor; we must not try to win any one, 
save through his heart and his conscience; 
we must be simple and humble as the 
least of those that Christ bade follow 
Him. Eveleth, perhaps you have made a 
mistake ! I love you too much to wish 



A PLUTOCRATIC TRIUMPH. 



127 



you to suffer even for your good. Yes, I 
am so weak as that ! I did not think that 
this would be the sacrifice for you that it 
seems, and I will not ask it of you. I am 
sorry that we have not understood each 
other, as I supposed we had. I could 
never become an American ; perhaps you 
could never become an Altrurian. Think 
of it, dearest ! Think well of it, before 
you take the step which you cannot re- 
cede from. I hold you to no promise ; I 
love you so dearly that I cannot let you 
hold yourself. But you must choose be- 
tween me and your money — no ; not me ! 
— but between love and your money. You 
cannot keep both." 

She had stood listening to me ; now she 
cast herself on my heart, and stopped my 
words with an impassioned kiss. "Then 
there is no choice for me. My choice is 
made, once for all." She set her hands 
against my breast, and pushed me from 
her. " Go, now ! But come again to-mor- 
row. I want to think it all over again. 
Not that I have any doubt ; but because 
you wish it — you wish it, don't you? — 
and because I will not let you ever think 
I acted upon an impulse, and that I re- 
gretted it." 

" That is right, Eveleth ! That is like 
you," I said, and I took her into my arms 
for good-night. 

The next day, I came for her decision, 
or rather for her confirmation of it. The 
man who opened the door to me, met me 
with a look of concern and embarrassment. 
He said Mrs. Strange was not at all well, 
and had said he was to give me the letter 
he handed me. I asked, in taking it, if 
I could see Mrs. Gray, and he answered 
that Mrs. Gray had not been down yet, 
either, but he would go and see. I was 
impatient to read my letter, and I made 
I know not what vague reply, and I 
found myself, I know not how, on the 
pavement, with the letter open in my 
hand. It began abruptly without date or 
address : 

" You will believe that I have not slept, 
when you read this. 

"I have thought it all over again, as 
you wished, and it is all over between us. 

"I am what you said, the creature of 
my environment. I cannot detach my- 

[the 



self from it ; I cannot escape from what I 
have been. 

" I am writing this with a strange cold- 
ness, like the chill of death in my very 
soul. I do not ask you to forgive me ; I 
have your forgiveness already. Do not 
forget me ; that is what I ask. Remem- 
ber me as the unhappy woman who was 
not equal to her chance when heaven was 
opened to her : who could not choose the 
best, when the best came to her. 

" There is no use writing ; if I kept on 
forever, it would always be the same cry 
of shame, of love. 

"Eveleth Strange." 

I reeled as I read the lines. The street 
seemed to weave itself into a circle around 
me. But I knew that I was not dream- 
ing, that this was no delirium of my 
sleep. 

It was three days ago, and I have not 
tried to see her again. I have written her 
a line, to say that I shall not forget her, 
and to take the blame upon myself. After 
all, I expected the impossible of her. 

I have yet two days before me until the 
steamer sails ; we were to have sailed to- 
gether, and now I shall sail alone. 

I will try to leave it all behind me for- 
ever ; but while I linger out these last 
long hours here, I must think, and I must 
doubt. 

Was she, then, the poseuse that they 
said ? Had she really no heart in our 
love? Was it only a pretty drama she 
was playing, and were those generous 
motives, those lofty principles which 
seemed to actuate her, the poetical qual- 
ities of the play, the graces of her pose? 
I cannot believe it. I believe that she was 
truly what she seemed, for she had been 
that even before she met me. I believe 
that she was pure and lofty in soul as she 
appeared ; but that her life was warped to 
such a form by the false conditions of 
this sad world, that, when she came to 
look at herself again, after she had been 
confronted with the sacrifice before her, 
she feared that she could not make it 
without in a manner ceasing to be. 

She— 

But I shall soon see you again ; and, 
until then, farewell. 

A. Homos. 

END.] 



Due 


COLLEGE LIBRARY 

Date Due 
Returned Due 


Returned 





















































































































































































































WiWrawn from Uf . Surveyed to Internet Archive 






c a_ 



Letters of an Altrurian travel main 
816.4H895leC2 



3 12b2 032^ MSD5